As a foreigner to Korea, I’m not licensed to give a lesson on everything Chuseok, but I’ll give it a whirl to the best of my ability. Chuseok is comparable to the American Thanksgiving. It is a celebration of harvest and appreciation of food. Folks wear Hanboks, eat Songpyeon, play Ssireum, and dance Ganggangsullae. Folks go away for the vacation to visit their families, usually grandparents, that live outside the city. Hanboks are vibrant and colorful silk outfits that are meant to be worn during Chuseok. At school, most kids weren’t happy to be wearing them, but found alleviation in the practice of bowing for money. Songpyeon is a round rice cake that is boiled in water with pine needles and filled with sugar and raisins. My opinion about is terribly biased because I am a picky dum-dum, I admit that outrightly. Songpyeon was very hard to eat because the texture is like a bland gummy bear that won’t disintegrate, but can I get a thumbs up for at least trying it? I digress. Ssireum is a wrestling game. As an alternative, the kindies at my school played some games of arm wrestling. Close enough right. Ganggangsullae is a dance in which everyone forms a huge circle and follows the announcer’s rules, such as go left, go right, and those who do not follow are removed from the game. That one is fairly simple.
My Chuseok weekend was quite different from the traditional however. A friend for back home wanted me to discuss Korean nightlife, Korean food, and the expat community here, and so, here it is:
- Korean Nightlife –> From Friday night after work until Tuesday, the last day of Chuseok break, there wasn’t a night that I didn’t come home before 5am. Korea goes hard on the partying. Most establishments, especially bars and restaurants, stay open way late to cater to the drunkies. Beers average at about $4, cocktails about $6, and shots about $3. Needless to say, drinking in Korea is a lot cheaper than in the states. And since it’s so socially acceptable, if not socially prescribed, to drink heavily, it’s totally fine to get thrashed. Walking around from club to bar to restaurant and everything in between, I saw friends helping friends boof in the street. There was even one guy cradling his buddy with the dude’s puke all over his arms and clothes. Now that’s a bromance! However, most bars don’t sell booze unless food is purchased. My friends are annoyed by this, but I think it’s great because food prevents boozy sickness. I suppose that’s up for debate.
- Korean food –> This category has involved a lot of trial and error due to my ignorance and the cultural barrier I’m living in. In terms of Chuseok food, I only really like the Bulgogi and Japchae, but I could do away with the Songpyeon and Rice water. Topologi isn’t good because of that rice cake consistency. KBBQ is top notch, I’ve yet to encounter any issues with it. Bibimbap is delish. Yukgaejang, the ultimate hangover soup, is awesome and super spicy. Gamjatang, a beef and potato stew, is even better. Kim Chi is amazing. On the other hand, good coffee – in my opinion – is hard to find. I’m want to drink very sweet types of coffees, like caramel macchiato for example. Most coffee shops specialize in Americanos, which are the darkest of roasts. So finding the right coffee has proven to be a challenge so far. I haven’t been in Korea long enough to know all that Korean cuisine has to offer. It’ll take some time.
- Expat community –> Not to be found in Bucheon. I have to travel about an hour via bus or subway to Itaewon or Hongdae to find all the foreigners. Both cities has bars and restaurants crawling with foreigners and good times. The night I spent in Hondage over the weekend started off at Salon Nomad, a hole in the wall venue where some local Korean rock bands played. After that, we went over to The Park, a random, beat-up playground area where loads of foreigners and locals hang out and get drunk. There were rappers performing for anyone who was willing to listen and a Taekwondo guy requesting that people pay him for a fight. The Park is interesting to say the least. Then, we moved on to Thursday Party, a hoppin’ dive bar filled to the brim with foreigners. I got the most drunk at Thursday Party because of the Cocalero shots I had. From there, we went over to a hidden, nameless Persian hookah bar where all the goods were cheap and the set up was beyond comfortable. Though, I did have an issue with the squatter toilets. By 4am, the hookah bar was closing and we had to figure out what to do from there. We ended the night at Monster Pizza, an eatery of eateries. This was the best way to end the night! Waiting 20 minutes in a line that flowed out the door was so worth it because this was the freshest and greasiest pizza to be found in Korea. Pizza connoisseurs unite! Thereafter, we took a cab home. Hongdae is awesome! Living in Bucheon isn’t as great as being in Seoul, but R&B (Rhythm & Booze) is the last foreigner bar standing. My only complaint about R&B is that the drinks are on the more expensive side, so get ready to splurge.
- ETC –> Over Chuseok I also went to Ulwangli Beach. Wow, just wow. Being there made me miss beaches back home so hard. Not because I love beaches and am homesick, but because this beach was absolutely filthy and it took over two hours of travel both ways. At this beach, people are allowed to drink and smoke cigarettes and hookah, bring their pesky dogs, camp out in tents, and set off fire works upon sunset. This made me go mad! There were signs posted to advise visitors that summer is the peak season for jellyfish and sadly the water was so brown that I couldn’t see past an inch. I’ve never been a fan of beaches and oceans, and these awful conditions don’t help the cause. On the contrary, I was totally amazed by how far the tide moved back after sunset. Back home the tide stay about the same all the time, but here, the tide traveled about 20ft backward!
That’s enough for now I think. Time to get back to work!!