We just finished a 5-day weekend for the Chuseok holiday. Chuseok is most comparable to Thanksgiving – it’s a major travel holiday as everyone makes their way to their parents and grandparents. Lots and lots of food is prepared and families generally enjoy each others’ presence for a few days. But the comparisons stop there. Unlike Thanksgiving, Chuseok is the biggest and most important holiday of the year. Gifts and gift-sets are purchased for relatives. Finally, unlike Thanksgiving, some people, particularly children, wear traditional Korean clothes “hanbok.” This would be like many of us dressing up like colonial pilgrims for our Thanksgiving.
Chuseok is not exactly a time to give thanks. It’s a time to honor ancestors and spend time with family. One of Chris’ co-teachers described creating a “spirit buffet” to honor ancient ancestral spirits.
Like all major holidays, its a very stressful one. My co-teachers seemed jealous when I told them we’re just staying home for Chuseok.
Generally, you have to drive “home”, battling the 50 million other people who are also driving home. Drive times are increased 3 or 4 hours – the government even puts out extra porta-potties on the highways to accommodate the cross-country deadlock traffic. It’s stressful driving. Then when you arrive home you have to do ceremonial things like cooking and honoring ancestors.
Five out of six people I talked to were not very excited for Chuseok. The only one who was excited, has a 3 year old son. I’m sure he’s excited to dress him up and let him play with his grandparents. Also, he was a male. The five who weren’t’ excited were all women and they were indifferent if not upset about the impending holiday.
Women – mostly the poor daughter in law (Koreans have a history of daughter-in-law-abuse) prepare food for hours, if not days. And its not just “food” -its hundreds of different “side dishes” and main dishes. Some women are so tired of dealing with in-laws and cooking “elaborate ceremonial dishes” that this year saw a huge raise in purchasing fake arm casts (read more about that here).
There is even “”myeongjeol divorce” … referring to the rise in divorce rates in February and March following the Lunar New Year holidays.” (source) If the Lunar New Year is causing divorces I can’t imagine what Chuseok (the biggest holiday of the year) is doing.
Besides all the cooking and familial relations – theres all the shopping to do. The major store in our area, Lotte Mart, cleared and rearranged the whole store for over a month. They pushed everything out of the way and changed where everything was to create a giant Chuseok gift-set-sales-area in the very center of the store. Employees wearing full Hanbok have been mulling around waiting for people to buy the gift sets. Of course, everyone waited until the last day (Sunday) to buy most of them. Making that day the worst day in the history of forever for going to the store. Lets just compare that day to some kind of Chuseok-Black-Friday.
On the outskirts of the store, they’ve been selling Hanbok for kids. Which was just plain adorable.
So what did we do for Chuseok?
Certainly not traveling, nor cooking, nor honoring ancestors. No, we randomly decided to build a headboard.
When the bed was first moved into the apartment, our co-teachers both made a lot of comments about “oh there’s no headboard, thats so weird” we thought the bed looked kind of modern and awesome. Until we noticed the pillows rubbing off on the wall. So we bought a curtain, trying to hang a modern looking curtain behind the bed. Unfortunately the walls are made of concrete so hanging anything was impossible.
It’s worth noting there is absolutely NOTHING similar to a Home Depot or Lowes here. Nothing. There are some little stores that sell hammers but they don’t have wood or paint or anything else. Also they’re never open.
We went to Lotte and bought some gloves, nails and some kind of not-wood-stain that looked like wood stain.
Then we went to Chris’s school and took-possibly-stole two wooden pallets that have been sitting out for a while.
We had to hike them back to the apartment – which doesn’t sound too difficult but we had to navigate around bewildered people (what are they doooinggg?? lets stop and stare) over the 3/4th of a mile.
Once at our apartment we began pulling the nails out – not easy to do honestly. Then we sanded the boards down the best I could with individual pieces of sandpaper. I can think of a few tools that would have been better to use – but this was all we had.
We broke our hammer. Chris went to buy a new one which attracted the attention of a Korean man. He spoke to me in Korean and talked about the quality of our hammer for the nearly ten minutes Chris was gone. I imagine he was once a renowned construction worker and was offering his invaluable knowledge of how we could do our project better. But alas, the language barrier…. we’ll never know.
Our project was so interesting and disturbing to passing Koreans that we caused a bike-accident. They were too busy staring at us to watch where they were going (Ha! maybe don’t stare so much?). Also an elderly woman straight up turned around and walked away – choosing to take a different route than to walk near us.
Younger, posh Korean women who passed our project to get to the lavish coffee shop nearby ($8 for a coffee!) actually laughed at us and made it known how funny (positively quaint?) they thought our project was. To us, the pallets were “reclaimed wood” which was going to look rustic and badass as a headboard. But rustic and/or reclaimed are not a style here. I imagine our project looked comparable to painting and sanding trash.
By night-time we had all the wood we needed and had it as “stained” as we could without actually possessing stain. Either way, there was sticky, dark-ish protectant on the wood. Not stain, but its the best we can do.
We left the wood outside because of the paint smell – all the while terrified someone would steal our hard work.
The next morning – the actual day of Chuseok, we went to work. It couldn’t be the same exact size as the bed because of the length of the wood and the amount of wood. But centered on the bed we thought it would look fine.
We worked next to the road to try to stop the loud hammering from bothering anyone. Again, this was on Chuseok-day. The apartment complex was relatively empty but for the few people there, we didn’t want to be obnoxiously building while they’re spending time with family.
A couple hours later we were done.
It’s straight and sits perfectly on the ground (we had no level so we’re happy).
We like it. And its our headboard so thats all that really matters.
That was pretty much it for Chuseok. Hair cuts, chores, building a headboard… playing video games, reading and relaxing. We regret nothing.