How to start the new year rightThough we’ve all been blithely celebrating the Year of the Chicken since Jan. 1, the truth of the matter is that the year doesn’t really hatch until Wednesday, which is Lunar New Year’s Day.
In a year when one of Korea’s two major holidays, Chuseok, falls on a weekend (to the delight of bosses and the dismay of employees),it’s all the more important to take full advantage of the other one. During this three-day holiday, which is next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the vast majority of people in Seoul won’t be working, and a substantial number of them won’t even be in Seoul. Instead, just as they do during Chuseok, they’ll be jamming the nation’s freeways on their way to and from family gatherings in the provinces (or they’ll be taking advantage of the time off by getting out of the country altogether).
This means that Seoul, for those of us left behind, will be a different city. It won’t exactly be a ghost town, but you’ll definitely notice the difference in the amount of traffic (and honking horns) on the streets, and in the number of ajumma elbowing their way past you in the subway.
Today’s J-Weekend offers some suggestions for passing the time in this pleasantly transformed city. Whether you want to partake of traditional Korean culture, eat a holiday bowl of tteokguk (rice cake soup) or just zone out on the couch and watch movies on TV, the information you need is on this page.
As for the usual, day-to-day entertainment and dining options in Seoul, you’ll find most shops, clubs, restaurants, noraebang and so forth doing business as usual on Tuesday and Thursday, though most will be closed on Wednesday, the actual Lunar New Year’s Day. Movie theaters will be open as usual throughout the holiday, and there won’t be any change in the public transportation schedule, except that the subways will run later than usual on Wednesday and Thursday nights to accommodate travelers.
Ready? Dive in, and have a bowl of tteokguk for us.
Have a bowl of tteokguk and grow a year older
Certified as a “longtime essential Lunar New Year tradition” by no less an authority than a Joseon Dynasty royal memoir, tteokguk, or rice cake soup, is indeed the classic holiday treat. It’s also the source of the old saying, “No pheasant, then chicken,” meaning that if you can’t find pheasant stock for your tteokguk, you should go ahead and use chicken broth. (It’s another way of saying “Make the best of it.”)
Tradition has it that you don’t become a year older until you’ve had your bowl of tteokguk on Lunar New Year’s Day. Of course, you can skip it if you think it’ll slow down the passage of time, but we can’t promise that’ll work. Besides, it tastes good.
Standard tteokguk, with its thinly sliced, oval-shaped rice cakes, is available in countless Korean restaurants, but some people consider that to be a little too ordinary. Harder to find are restaurants specializing in the version that uses the rice cakes called joraengi, which originated in Gaeseong in North Korea. A joraengi rice cake is shaped more like two small balls attached to each other.
Among the well-regarded restaurants specializing in joraengi tteokguk are Gung (02-733-9240), whose name, despite its rather humble atmosphere, means “palace” in Korean. Found in a back alley in touristy Insa-dong, Gung will be closed Wednesday, but it’ll be open Tuesday and Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
For a more upscale atmosphere, the Yongsusan chain serves Gaeseong-style cuisine. Its branches will be closed on both Tuesday and Wednesday, alas, but on Thursday they’ll be open from noon to 3 p.m. for lunch and 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. for dinner. Its Samcheong-dong branch, one of many, can be reached at (02) 739-5599.
Namsangol Hanok Village near Myeongdong, central Seoul, will not only be offering free samples of tteokguk at 2 p.m. on both Wednesday and Thursday, but will give expatriates a chance to slice their own rice cakes at 1 p.m. on those same days. The village will host other traditional games and performances as well. It’ll be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission is free. Call (02) 2266-6923.
Palaces, traditional music and a wish on a string
If that bowl of tteokguk puts you in the mood for immersing yourself in traditional culture, there will be plenty of options in Seoul over the holiday.
South of the river, the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts, next to Seoul Arts Center in the Seocho district, will celebrate the new year at 5 p.m. Wednesday with a performance of classic court music dating from the Joseon Dynasty, played on traditional instruments. Ticket prices range from 8,000 won ($8) to 10,000 won.
After the performance, you’ll be invited to write a New Year’s wish on a piece of traditional mulberry paper and hang it by a string; it’s for a work of art that’ll be on display in the lobby. Later, on the first full moon day of the Lunar New Year, the string will be burned. Tradition has it that this will help make the wish come true. If you can’t make it on Wednesday, you can stop by any day until Feb. 23 to make your New Year’s wish.
Throughout the holiday, the center will also be hosting (at no charge) traditional games, such as yutnori, which is played with sticks, and neolttwigi, the Korean version of the seesaw. For more information, call (02) 580-3394.
On the Gyeongbok Palace grounds in central Seoul, the National Folk Museum has holiday plans too; traditional performances and games will be going on every day of the holiday, ranging from performances of pungmul (farmers’ percussion music) at 3 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday to a Korean martial arts showcase at 11 a.m. Thursday. Admission to the folk museum is 1,000 won ($1); it’ll be open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information (in English), visit www.nfm.go.kr.
The Korean Folk Village in Yongin, suburban Seoul, will also be open throughout the holiday, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, offering its usual array of traditional Korean diversions. Admission is 11,000 won; detailed information can be found at www.koreanfolk.co.kr, in both English and Japanese.
The Korea National Tourism Organization, in the Jung district of central Seoul, will offer its own taste of Korean traditional culture with free screenings of the film “Chunhyang,” director Im Kwon-taek’s picturesque version of an old folk tale about star-crossed lovers.
The film will be shown with English subtitles, at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. For more information, call (02) 729-9496.
Namsongal Hanok Village will be having some traditional fun, too (see the item in the box above). So will Seoul’s palaces, which will be open throughout the holiday. Gyeongbok Palace (02-734-2458), where you can also visit the National Folk Museum, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Deoksu Palace (02-771-9951), near City Hall, is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Changgyeong Palace will be open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; further information is available at (02) 762-4868. Jongmyo, a royal shrine from the Joseon Dynasty, recognized as a world cultural heritage site by Unesco, will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call (02) 765-0195.
The most expat-friendly palace, however, is Changdeok Palace, which provides tours in English for 3,000 won per person at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., and in Japanese at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. If you want to fully enjoy the palace, however, a more extensive tour is available by reservation only, for 5,000 won. To make a reservation, call (02) 762-0648.
Admission to all of the palaces will be free throughout the holiday for anyone dressed in traditional Korean hanbok.
Fun for the couchbound
Let’s face it: Sometimes, despite all the best intentions of getting out and enjoying the world during time off from work, a person ends up taking the path of least resistance and watching TV on the couch.
On Korean television, holiday seasons have long been a time for lighthearted programming. There’ll be plenty of that next week; “The Sound of Music,” “Galaxy Quest” and “Pirates of the Carribean” are among the American movies scheduled (though there’ll also be darker fare, including “Apocalypse Now Redux” and “The Godfather Part II”).
Here’s a rundown of the English-language movies scheduled. KBS-TV’s two channels get the parade of special movie programming started soonest, beginning this weekend. The major networks, MBC, KBS and SBS, tend to dub these films into Korean, but most if not all TV remote controls have a feature that can switch them back into English with the push of a button.
Title Time Date
“Bollywood/Hollywood” 11:30 p.m. Mon.
“Mighty Joe Young” 1:20 p.m. Tue.
“About Schmidt” 11 p.m. Feb. 12
“My Favorite Martian” 12:10 p.m. Tue.
“Men in Black 2” 9:40 p.m. Tue.
“Black Hawk Down” 10 p.m. Wed.
“Apocalypse Now Redux” 11:45 p.m. Thu.
“Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” 8:30 p.m. Tue.
“Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines” 11:25 p.m. Tue.
“Miss Congeniality” 1:50 p.m. Wed.
“Spy Kids 2” 2:05 p.m. Thu.
“Charlie’s Angels” 6:10 p.m. Thu.
“Willow” 12:35 a.m. Tue.
“The Mummy” 2 p.m. Tue.
“Scorpion King” 2:20 p.m. Wed.
“Blade 2” 12:10 a.m. Thu.
“Mission Impossible 2” 2:30 p.m. Thu.
“Die Another Day” 11:40 a.m. Tue.
“Windtalkers” 2:20 p.m. Tue.
“Independence Day” 7:10 p.m. Tue.
“Sleepy Hollow” 12:20 a.m. Wed.
“Erin Brockovich” 4:10 a.m. Wed.
“Enemy at the Gates” 7:20 p.m. Wed.
“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” 10 p.m. Wed.
“Don’t Say a Word” 12:30 p.m. Thu.
“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” 2:50 p.m. Thu.
“Vertical Limit” 5:10 p.m. Thu.
“Gangs of New York” 12:20 a.m. Fri.
“Driven” 12:40 p.m. Tue.
“Platoon” 5:20 p.m. Tue.
“The Shadow” 7:50 p.m. Tue.
“The Bone Collector” 1:10 a.m. Wed.
“The Godfather Part II” 3:40 a.m. Wed.
“Galaxy Quest” 3:10 p.m. Wed.
“Volcano” 3:10 p.m. Thu.
“Saving Private Ryan” 11 p.m. Thu.
“Just Married” 3:50 p.m. Tue.
“S.W.A.T.” midnight Wed.
“8 Mile” 2:45 a.m. Wed.
“Shanghai Knights” noon Wed.
“Two Weeks’ Notice” 3:55 p.m. Wed.
“Looney Tunes: Back in Action” 5:40 p.m. Wed.
“The Matrix Reloaded” 7:15 p.m. Wed.
“League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” 12:40 a.m. Thu.
“Legally Blonde 2” 8:10 p.m. Thu.
“Pirates of the Caribbean”12:30 p.m. Thu.
“2 Fast 2 Furious” 2:55 p.m. Thu.
“The Sound of Music” 4:45 p.m. Thu.
“The Matrix Revolutions” 7:45 p.m. Thu.
“Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” 12:05 a.m. Fri.
by Chun Su-jin