This weekend was Chuseok, which is one the major Korean family holidays- the other being Lunar New Year. It’s often translated to “Thanksgiving” and is a celebration of the fall harvest. It’s also a time to think of your ancestors and visit graves. Seoul got much quieter as many people left the city.

Food is an important element and when I asked my students what is traditional, many said “songpyeon”, which is a rice cake-filled with seseme or chestnut paste and steamed over pine needles. The rice cakes are nice and chewy-some foreigners don’t like the texture but I think they’re quite delicious.

Of course much more than rice cakes are eaten and traditionally it’s the job of the first born son’s wife to prepare all the food, for 30-40 people. My friend Yosefina said some families fight over this nowadays because the wife may want more help than her female in-laws are willing to give. She also said many mothers don’t want their daughters to marry first-sons because there are always greater obligations and more work.

I forgot to ask who cooks for families with only daughters.

For my Chuseok, I relaxed a lot. The biggest thing I did was go to Suwon- a city just to the South of Seoul. It really boggles my mind how huge this city is-I took the subway two hours south- with really no break from the urban environment. Then you get to Suwon-just outside Seoul-but it’s another bustling, big city- with one million people! I tried to capture how large it is–the apartment stacks are overwhelming

I went to see the Hwaseong Fortress, a World Heritage Site- it’s an old city wall that would have protected it from invaders.

The wall links up with 3 gates, similiar to Namdaemun (burned last year) and Dongdaemun, in Seoul. Here is Paldamun- Hwaseong’s Southern gate:

It was built in the late 1700’s by King Jeongjo. I am reading a book that made the visit more interesting; it’s called the “Red Queen” and is a work of historical fiction based on King Jeongjo’s mother, Lady Hyegyeong. She wrote an autobiography, “The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong” and was married to Crown Prince Sado. Sado is well known for being murdered by his father-he was suffocated in a rice chest. In the book “Red Queen”, Sado is described as depressed and mentally ill.

It was nice to be in the city but out of the crowds, with access to the mountain forest. There were great views of the city too- enhanicing its mind-boggling largeness.

I spent most of the day there- took my time wandering around, it was sunny and hot enough to want to rest in the shade some and read my book about the Queen and the intrigue of Korean court life.


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