Saturday, October 07, 2006

Chu'seok: Heaven and Hell

I can't get enough of this blogging business. With this week off, I am posting like a madman but will likely find it hard to keep it up once classes start again on Monday.

Anyway, after five heavenly days down on Jeju Island, I was dreading my return to the capital only to find - CALM. Chu'seok, the harvest festival, you see, is one of two huge holiday festivals in Korea (the other being Lunar New Year), akin to our Christmas, when almost every Korean feels compelled to return to their hometowns to reconnect with family and friends.
How very lovely, you say? Well, except that the holiday involves, for most, a lot more stress than joyous familial frolic. First off, being with the family involves making train or flight reservations months in advance or having to face up to 20 hours on the roads in an endless traffic jam. This holiday season, some 39 million people were on the move in-country, with another 300,000 estimated to be traveling overseas. Then, once you have arrived, the lady of the family is expected to log countless hours preparing festive traditional rice cakes (song-pyun) and any number of other delicacies for the men, who generally sit with the elder men and get profusely plastered, in keeping with tradition. For those unfortunate enough to be unmarried by 25, there are the inevitable questions about marriage and the ticking of the biological clock.

Anyway, with all of those good sons and daughters battling the expressways in Cholla, Kyongsang, Kangwon and Choongchun provinces yesterday and today, I arrived back in Seoul to find clear, pollution-free skies, empty roads, and NOTHING to eat in the neighborhood, what with all the shops and restaurants closed.

There is NO better time to see Seoul than Chu-seok. A trip across the city that would take who knows how long in normal traffic took minutes. Lets hope the charms of the countryside keep a few million people from coming back to the city.

But alas, I fear it is not to be. The crowds of pedestrians bearing designer suitcases and fruit baskets in the 'hood tonight and a quick trip out to the Kyungbu Expressway this evening revealed that the hordes are making their return.

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