Monday, September 30, 2013

Traditional Dancer in Red

As part of the Chuseok festivities, traditional dances were performed at Deoksugung Palace in Seoul. In this particular dance, the woman with the red hanbok took the lead, in a slow, but commanding style. I'd love to learn more about the symbolism of the dances and costumes worn - including the multi-striped extension over the hand. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Folded Up for the Day

If you enter into many Korean homes, the lack of a mattress/boxspring set you make you wonder where its residents sleep. Particularly in traditional homes and those that still have ondol heated floors, people sleep on a mattress called a yo, which is placed on the floor. A quilt known as an ibul and a wheat hull-stuffed pillow known as a pyogae completed the bedding. Personally, I found the yo mattress experience toasty, but way too hard for my tastes. I do love the idea of carefully folding up the coordinated sleeping sets, thus leaving the room available for other uses. Multi-use rooms were particularly important in the small traditional homes. Here, an entire family might huddle together on a large yo, keeping warm despite the cold Korean winter.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

With Great Care

This Jesasang display at Namsangol Village, like the one I saw at the Lee family residence, had the harvest festival food so neatly and carefully arranged. Many of the foods were the same as I had seen at the residence, including the apples, Korean pears, puffed rice cakes, song-pyeon, and tofu. I was particularly intrigued by the way the other sweets next to the apples were arranged - diagonally by color. Such care to attention and the sheer bounty of food really emphasizes the importance of the event and its harvest focus.

The careful stacking of the food reminded me of the common scenes at markets in India, also emphasizing the bounty and increasing the attractiveness of the produce. I wonder how long it took for the market vendor to arrange those carrots....

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Celebrating Chuseok in Style

As part of the Chuseok celebration, various festivities and celebrations were held in Seoul. Thankfully, many of these events were free and open to the public. These two children, wearing portions of their hanbok traditional outfits, seemed quite engaged in watching the varied dance and singing performances held at Deoksugung Palace. With the afternoon temps, it's not surprising that the girl shed the skirt and blouse. Gotta love the tennies and red shades!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Chuseok at the Lee Family Residence

Chuseok -the Harvest Festival

Under the full Harvest moon, Koreans this past week celebrated Chuseok. During this 3-day harvest festival, people in Korea travel back on horrendously clogged roads back to their ancestral hometowns to celebrate with friends and family, as well as pay respect for deceased relatives. In preparation for the festival, traditionally people would visit the graves of relatives, carefully cleaning up the area around the tombs and offer food, drinks, and crops to their deceased ancestors. 

Preparing the feast

One of the teachers, a long-time American resident of Seoul married to a Korean, invited me to to see how song-pyeon, a special treat for the harvest festival, was made. To simplify things this year, the dough, made primarily from finely ground new rice, was purchased instead of being made from scratch. The kneaded dough was rolled into a small ball, representing the full moon. They then were filled with either slightly ground sesame seeds or red beans, now taking the shape of a half-moon. The song-pyeon cakes, placed on top of pine needles, were steamed in a large kettle on the stove, with the slight aroma of pine needles filling the air. As one woman of the Lee family attended to the stove, another woman sat on the floor, expertly rolling a ground beef mixture into perfectly round patties the size of a half-dollar. Another woman dunked the patties into a large bowl of eggs, then into flour, and onto an electric skillet. Along with the patties, slabs of tofu were fried. 
The prepared Jesasang ceremonial table
Rice wine - one cup per family member, along with incense

Charye Ceremony

Early the next morning on the day of Chuseok, both male and female members of the Lee family were already busy preparing the Jesasang, a ceremonial table setting for the celebration. Fruit such as a honeydew, apples, oranges, Korean pears, and local dates had already been neatly placed in the front part of the table setting. Just as I had seen in a display the day before at an ethno village, all fruits that contained a peeling or rind had their tops neatly peeled in a circle. Added to the table were peeled chestnuts, dried and grilled pollock fish, other meats, soup, kimchi, the tofu and ground beef patties, song-pyoung treats, puffed rice snack, and a few other sweets. Each item was carefully arranged in a particular place on the table, according to the traditional rules of the ceremony. For the Lee brothers’ grandparents, a framed paper with the names of the parents (they didn’t have any photos) was prominently placed in the back center of the table. Incense was lit. The ceremony included things such as pouring rice wine three times and offering it to the sprits of the deceased; each time the family members bowed down to pay their respect. Later, the process was repeated for the Lee brothers' parents, and then Mrs. Lee’s parents, with a photo of the parents. For Mrs. Lee, bananas were added to the table, signifying something her parents liked (just as the puffed rice snack was a favorite of Mr. Lee’s mother). 
Performing the pouring and rotation of the wine cup

The Thanksgiving Meal

After the charye ceremony was over, some of the foods were removed and prepared for serving. To my surprise and delight, I was invited to stay and join the Lee family for the meal. Fish replaced the American turkey, and kimchi stood in for stuffing. A sweet rice tea was served after the meal. My first Thanksgiving eaten with metal chopsticks, it was a splendid way to experience some more of Korean culture. Many thanks to the Lees for inviting me!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Buying those Chuseok Gift Boxes

For those detesting long checkout lines and crowds in stores, they best avoid entering a store in Korea this week. Families all over the country are preparing for Chuseok, the harvest festival. As part of this festival (one of the three most important holidays in Korea), gifts are exchanged. Particularly for busy professionals, presenting an expensive, beautiful gift box is an attractive solution.
Presented here are a few of the gift boxes I spotted while going EARLY to the grocery store on Saturday. I have included their dollar equivalents in the captions below each photo.
Which would you buy?
SPAM - care for the box at $40 or $49?

Not sure what this is - ginseng? $89 (a "bargain" from its regular price of $110)

Precious apples - $42 or $55

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Kolams of South India

Below is a video I just created on the kolams (also known as rangolis), a beautiful traditional art form of South India. During my four years living in Chennai, I never grew tired of watching women transform the white rice flour or colored powder into incredible radial designs - only to sweep them away and do it again the next morning.
The blog post South Indian Kolams; Radial Symmetry of Powder goes through a bit more of the process in how I created the video. All photos, video footage, and artwork is that of my own.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Twisted Topiary

With all the perennial bushes within the grounds of Yonsei University in Seoul, it's quite obvious that there are some groundskeepers who are quite skilled in the art of the topiary. It's rare to find bushes here to look like they are in need of a "haircut." Some of the bushes are sculpted in such a way that they look like green puffy lumps stacked one on top of another; others render an almost twisted effect. No sculpted elephants here as I have seen in India and Cambodia, but aesthetic nonetheless.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Summer Pink Blossoms of Seoul

 Even though it is late summer in Seoul, I long for colorful blooms. Located on the grounds of Yonsei University, these pink blossoms at least partially satisfied me. Such a contrast from the brilliant green of the well-manicured bushes.