25 September 2007


it felt nice to be among millions of other koreans who were en route to visit their ancestral hometowns and families for the chuseok holiday. although it's no longer the month-long weaving contest that originated during the silla kingdom 2,000 years ago, it's still a harvest celebration held for three days around the 15th day of the 8th month of korea's lunisolar calendar.

although grandpa's side is from present-day north korea, the maternal side is from daegu, korea's fourth largest city in gyungsangbukdo province on the peninsula's southeast side. approaching 300 km/hr., the ktx bullet train takes passengers from seoul station to dong daegu station in just 100 minutes. along the way i enjoyed reaquainting myself with the dramatic landscape of one of the world's most mountainous areas. just minutes outside of seoul are lush green mountains punctuated by small manicured clearings for burial mounds, terraced rice paddies, meandering streams and hot houses.

in no time at all we arrived in deagu and i hopped onto one of daegu's 2 subway lines. a few minutes later i was exiting the yeongnam subway station and met my wesukmo (aunt) under a cold rain.

originally a celebration of the harvest, whose bounty is attributed to the blessing of ancestors, these days families get together to care for the tombs and eat lots and lots of traditional foods. upon entering the family compound, it was obvious that chuseok food prep was well underway. while wesukmo squatted on the floor frying thick slices of lotus root in egg batter (고구마전) along with (동그랑댕) and several other kinds of jun- vegetable and meat fried pancakes, i was snacking on delicious muscat grapes the size of ping pong balls and some of daegu's famous apples. in addition to broiled chicken, fried fish and thinly sliced marinated steak, she had also prepared 송편, the quintessential chuseok food- rice cakes filled with chestnuts, sesame and/or beans and steamed with pine needles. to aid digestion there was plenty of 식혜, a sweet, cinnamon-hinted rice water (typically called 단술 or 감주 in the local gyeongsangdo dialect).

here alone for the first time without my mother or crazy jayne to translate, it was time to put my 4 months of korean language study to work. communication with wesukmo and my cousin was slow but possible, whereas wesamchun (uncle) and halmohnee mostly furrowed their brows at much of what i said.

an early morning prayer, a few bows, and then eating.

being here is always a striking change of pace. it's slow here, and instead of hearing vehicles, shopping announcements and construction, i hear neighbors doing laundry, dogs barking, and game show laugh tracks from their small tv, which is always on. invariably, wesamchun sits on the floor in front of the tube while a fan blows at his back. this is curious since the sliding doors are always wide open, giving the chilly fall fall air free reign inside.

outside i ask about the whereabouts of a very sorry dog, which they had taken in the last time i was here. they laughed as they told me that one night it just died. beside the empty dog house is a modest garden with an old pomegranate tree. i assume it was here when my mom lived here. initially i was confused to see it boasting big orange blossoms and a single cantaloupe-sized gourd until i noticed the squash vines that had crept up the trunk and branches.

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