Wednesday, September 26, 2007


We don't have a Thanksgiving holiday back in the UK, but a Hollywood has embedded the image in my psyche of an annual trip home to endure an awkward turkey dinner in a highly charged atmosphere. While there's no turkey in Korea, where the harvest festival holiday is called Chuseok (추석), most of the rest probably holds true, although it tends to be more of a thanksgiving breakfast after a paying respects to your ancestors, than a dinner here.

The mini-marts and takeaways which keep us fed on a daily basis were expected to be closed, so we stocked up on food Monday, as we weren't participating in meals ourselves - aside from it being a normal working day for us Korean Father was already at his father's house in Namhae and Korean Mother travelled down earlier to join the extended family's celebration there. It's a duty, and not an easy one to fulfil given the fact that many other Koreans are also trying to move themselves around the country at the same time.

One consequence of this near Biblical movement of people was that in the evening it took Korean Mother six hours to get back to Busan on a bus that would normally take three. Another consequence may have been the deserted streets nearby - it seemed that everyone was somewhere else. This was a good thing, because for the first time I can recall since arriving here, it was actually quiet when I woke up. Well, quiet outside at least, as evidently somewhere in our apartment block a presumably holidayed office worker thought 7.30am a perfectly acceptable time to practice chords on his guitar. This still beat listening to car horns, sales pitches and people shouting at each other though, which is what passes for the local dawn chorus here otherwise. It was vaguely reminiscent of some kind of sci-fi disaster movie - the sort where everyone either vanishes or turns into flesh-eating government bureaucrats.

Walking through the local streets in the suspiciously-unusual fresh air, revealed shops uniformly shuttered up and a complete lack of economic activity save for the mini-mart we live above. Some houses and apartments had placed dishes with food outside their doors after their thanksgiving breakfasts to feed any visiting ghosts, but I wasn't hungry, and that's about as close as I got to anything traditional during the day.

The wonderful peace and quiet was shattered once mid-afternoon when inexplicably an ambulance decided park across the end of one of the nearby deserted roads, sounding its siren for five minutes, which given the total lack of other noise was especially noticeable. An ajeossi appeared to shout at him from across the road and when that didn't work, he walked up to the driver's door and shouted some more at about the same volume, and that saw the vehicle off. Which I guess proves that the real Korea isn't far beneath the surface and we'll be all back to our usual agitated selves tomorrow.

It is a traditional part of Thanksgiving here to pray to the moon once night falls. So shortly after the London stock market closed at half-past midnight, we ventured up to the roof of our apartment building to see if it was visible. And there it was. I'm not much one for praying to astronomical objects so while my wife did her Korean duties I took some shots of the local streets, which even for 1am in the morning were particularly deserted. Today, it was back to the noise I suppose.

Korean tags: 추석, 휴가

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