Expats celebrate harvest festival

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Expats celebrate harvest festival

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For the expatriate community in Korea, Chuseok is a prime time to party. They often don’t have family obligations and it is a rare occasion when the streets in Seoul are so deserted. With at least two extra days off attached to a weekend, some foreign residents have flown home to spend the holiday with their families but others are staying in Korea. We asked a few expats in Seoul how they plan to spend their Chuseok.

Mary-Jane Liddicoat, female, 40, education and science counselor at the Australian Embassy
“I plan to spend [Chuseok] with my Korean and Australian family in Seoul. My parents are visiting at the moment. I also plan to keep an eye on our ‘Challenge Your Thinking In Australia’ online event at the moment.
“I am married to a Korean, and so we always go to his house the day before to make food and then spend the Chuseok day at his house eating and talking to a steady stream of visiting relatives.
“We don’t have any thanksgiving in Australia. The closest event would be Christmas. The main difference is that Christmas is very hot for us, so we usually have a swim in the pool or at the beach! Another very big difference is that in Australia everybody helps out. I notice here that only the women enter the kitchen and the men sit around relaxing and talking. My sister-in-law is an angel. She does all the work. I feel very sorry for all the Korean women who work full-time and then have to do all the cooking and serving. Chuseok is really not a holiday for them at all. In fact, going back to work is probably more restful.
“Before I was married, I used to be upset that I could not spend my holidays with my boyfriend [now husband] as he had to spend the time with his family. So I used to read and relax and watch some movies or meet my friends. Boy, how I wish I could do that now! I am always exhausted at the end of the day ― especially now that I have two active and demanding toddlers to look after the whole time. But I know that I could never be as tired as my elder sister-in-law who does not rest from morning till night supplying the visitors with table after table of delicious home cooked food. Like a soldier, she smiles and serves and smiles and serves and even has time to chat to the relatives. I always give her a small envelope of money and tell her to go and get a massage or do something she finds relaxing when it is all over.
“We make a point of never traveling anywhere during Chuseok. It is much more relaxing to stay in Seoul. I am so glad my husband is from Seoul. I simply cannot bear to sit in traffic and I feel so sorry for those busy Koreans who have to spend a precious few days off work in lines of slow-moving traffic.”

Tami Overby, 47, female, president and chief executive officer of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea
“I’m going to spend Chuseok with my Korean friends in Seoul. After so many years, they still find it entertaining to see a foreigner baffled at the complexity of the traditional rituals and I always enjoy the good food and warm welcome. There will also be dinners held by expatriate families for close friends before and after Chuseok, though nothing as grand as the table set by Korean families.
“I have had several opportunities to participate in Chuseok rituals during my time in Korea. My Korean in-laws and friends have invited me to family gatherings at the eldest son’s house where distant relatives gather together. I love the hanbok and own one myself. The ritual of table setting and paying respect to the ancestors is impressive but I assume all that bowing will be quite a strain on your back. It occurred to me that a growing number of people in their 20s and 30s are beginning to regard Chuseok more as a vacation from work than a time for family gathering. This might be natural in such a fast changing society, especially for younger generations. Young people today may well prefer to spend the holidays by themselves or with their friends, regarding family gatherings as a choice rather than a duty. Like Americans, Koreans seem to be becoming more individualistic. While I understand this to some extent, I hope that the core meaning of Chuseok is not forgotten.”

Dr. Raimund Royer, 42, male, Director of International Clinic, Jaseng Hospital of Oriental Medicine, Seoul
“I am married to a Korean woman. That means we are celebrating Chuseok like most Koreans. We visit my wife’s parents and have a traditional worship ceremony for the ancestors and then visit their graves. I think it is a very good custom that reminds us to think about our roots, where we come from and that we are, like our ancestors, just short-term visitors on the journey we call life. It is also an opportunity to meet with other relatives; to exchange information and experiences.
“This year we are planning to stay for just one day with the relatives. I have to do some study about Oriental Medicine in Europe, which I want to finish right after Chuseok. Another reason to return home early is the terrible traffic on the streets. We found out that the best way to avoid being caught in a traffic jam is to start early in the morning, before 5 o’clock. Thinking about Chuseok makes my mouth water already. A huge variety of delicious food is prepared by family members. I also participate and help to prepare the traditional Korean rice cakes, the songpyeon. They usually turn out mega-big, but who cares. It’s the fun that counts. I like those filled with sweetened sesame seeds the most. Thank god that I don’t need to worry too much about my body weight.”
Latipah Hendarti, 37, female, Indonesian student at the Ecological Economic Lab. at Seoul National University
“I came to Seoul last year. It felt strange that the entire city turned strangely empty, while it is so busy during the rest of the year. I was invited to a Chuseok lunch at a Korean friend’s house last year. But it was during the Muslim period of Ramadan and I was not supposed to eat anything [until after 6 p.m.] So I watched them cook and prepare food. ‘I shouldn’t be eating,’ I thought. But there was a dish with peanuts and rice, lots of ginger and sugar and I couldn’t resist the temptation. So I ate it. I loved it. I have to work on my thesis this year so I will be doing research. I will probably gather with my Indonesian friends this year. We will not eat anything, and wait until after 6 p.m. so we can have some food.”

Jorge Diaz, 34, male, head of mission at the Paraguay Embassy
“No fixed plans have been made, but we wish to visit the Korean countryside. We have been invited to visit a Korean family during the Chuseok holiday, and we expect to learn a lot about Korean traditions and also have fun with the family.
“It is actually not that different [from Paraguayan custom.] Besides the date, we also honor our ancestors. But in Korea the celebration is on a much bigger scale. While in Korea they have a beautiful tradition of honoring the ancients, we actually have a more reserved tradition.
In Paraguay, the festivity lasts only one day, and on that day we pay visits to our loved ones that have passed away. Also there is a Catholic religious holiday, Holy Week, where we honor the death and resurrection of Christ. As Paraguay’s population is in the majority Christian, these holidays tend to be very important. In my personal opinion, it is a very important time of the year, and it should be preserved.”


by the Life and Style Team
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