Friday, October 12, 2007

giving thanks

This is a late post.

Four weeks ago I celebrated Chuseok, a major Korean holiday that centers around celebration of fall harvest and worship of one's ancestors. My host family left for the mainland to visit family, but I was adopted by one of the teachers at my school and spent the day at her house.

Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by the generosity and friendliness of the people here. This teacher is a great example. Ms. Kim teaches home economics and doesn't speak English, but since I came here she has gone out of her way to try to talk to me at school. With the language limitations on both sides, our conversations have always been really short. When she found out third-hand that I might not have plans for Chuseok, though, she had her daughter Soo Young, who speaks English really well, call me and ask me over. She picked me up at my apartment and we drove a good 30 minutes to her house out in the country.

Chuseok had been described to me as the Korean Thanksgiving. It had apparently been described to Ms. Kim this way as well, because she kept calling it Thanksgiving, not Chuseok, when she was talking to me. In some ways the holidays were similar: it is in the fall and around the time of harvest. We ate a lot of food and watched TV afterwards. There were some endearing family moments and some awkward ones (when one group of relatives came, they didn't come inside for 15 minutes. 11 year-old Soo Young explained quite plainly, "we don't like them"). In some ways they are very different: whole salted fish and lots of kimchi instead of turkey, spots for the table on the floor instead of chairs, served to the dead as well as the living. Before we ate, the men bowed multiple times to a beautiful display of food and incense set out to honor their ancestors. Here, Ms. Kim's husband adds the finishing touches:

Other highlights included Soo Young and I bowing to the ancestors while 15 men in suits looked on and Ms. Kim took my picture, Soo Young and I bonding over the Disney Channel and social networking sites (Cyworld= Korea's Facebook, fyi), Ms. Kim walking around her garden pointing and say "typoon!!" emphatically to indicate where typhoon Nari had hurt her plants and teaching me to say "butterfly" in Korean, and being gently corrected for mixing up the word for "smart" (dokdok hada) with the word for "fat" (dungdung hada).

I left with a paper bag full of leftovers, a strong resolve to practice Korean more often, a sense of gratitude towards the Kims, and a note to self to wear a slightly longer sweater next time I'm bowing in front of a large group of people.

No, I didn't flash anyone; I just came close. :)


Robin said...

Hi Elizabeth--I haven't read your blog since August so it's been so fun catching up. Your writing is fantastic and your continued posting is admirable. I've started a few blogs, but don't stick with them. What an amazing, life changing experience! Thanks for continuing to share!

Christina said...

Your posts are the highlight of my day!