Watch our video about how we celebrated Chuseok!
One of the things I was most excited about was celebrating Chuseok in Korea. I had heard that it was one of the biggest holidays in the year here. People get 3 days off work and travel back home to celebrate with their families. Also known as the harvest festival, this three day holiday is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar on the full moon (whenever the hell that is). That’s 15th September to you and me. As this was a Thursday, it meant that people had a 5 day weekend from Wednesday 14th through to Sunday 18th September.
I had heard that Seoul becomes pretty deserted throughout this holiday as people travel to the countryside to see their families. Many restaurants were closed and some transport ran a reduced service. We decided to take this opportunity to do some ‘touristy’ things that are usually quite busy at this time of year. We had planned to do some hiking but as the summer heat is still quite unbearable at the moment, we decided to wait till October to do that.
Day 1, Nami Island
The first day of Chuseok we decided to go to Nami Island which is a famous island about an hour from Seoul. It is famous for being the setting of popular K drama ‘Winter Sonata’. It normally attracts a big crowd but we were hoping as the majority of Korea was at their family home that it would be quite quiet. Fortunately we were right and there were no queues at all. We took the subway there and walked down the ferry pick up point. Already the scenery was breathtaking. When we hopped off the ferry we walked down the main tree-lined promenade which was full of couples taking selfies together (Steve and I included!)
We grabbed a coffee and hotteok (Korean style pancake) and perched ourselves on one of the many picnic benches. There were lots of live, traditional Korean performances on for the Chuseok holiday which we sat and enjoyed.
One of the most popular things to do on Nami Island is to take a ‘couple bike’ (tandem bike 8,000 WON per/hr) and cycle around the island so that’s what we did! And it was so much fun! We did a lap around the island before sitting down on an old log; Steve started skimming stones in to the lake. We saw a lot of the wildlife there including peacocks, squirrels and wild rabbits. It was such a nice, relaxing afternoon.
We returned our bikes and headed towards the pier, picking up some songpyeon on the way. Songpyeon are colourful rice cakes that are usually eaten around Chuseok time. They have a sweet filling, are chewy in texture and usually steamed over pine needles.
Nami island is 8,000 Won ($8) entry for tourists for the ferry, for a faster and more terrifying route to the island, there is a zip wire you can take for 38,000 won. Food was a bit pricey on the island and the restaurants was also very busy so i would recommend taking a packed lunch.
Day 2, Adoptee Chuseok dinner at Koroot
The following day we had a pretty lazy morning before heading to Ko Root Guesthouse which is a place here in Seoul where adoptees can stay when returning to Korea. Ko Root is an organisation which helps Korean adoptees returning to Korea. They run several social events, provide counselling for adoptees trying to find their birth parents, run a guesthouse where adoptees can stay and much more. It is run by Pastor Kim, who we were fortunate enough to have a great chat with at the party. He has done a lot of research and had a paper published on adoption here in Korea, especially regarding birth mothers. The volunteers at Koroot put on an amazing Chuseok dinner spread for all of us adoptees living here in Seoul; about 60 of us in total. We had a wide range of salads, bulgogi (Marinated beef), kimchi and japchae (sweet potato noodles with vegetables) – it was delicious and we were truly spoiled!
For me what was amazing was meeting some other adoptees here on the same journey as I am. It was comforting to speak with adoptees who had met with their birth parents and those who like myself are still searching. What was amusing as well is that there were so many nationalities represented. Even though we all look Korean, those who I met were so clearly from their own country. The Dutch adoptee was just so, well, DUTCH. He was still ranting about how Holland didn’t make the Euros! The Italian adoptee had long groomed hair with a trendy button down shirt. I loved it because despite us all looking Korean, we are so clearly a result of the environment we were raised in.
Day 3, Namsangol Village
The following day we decided to head to Namsangol Village which is a folk village with lots of traditional performances and activities. As it was Chuseok, they had on a lot of performances as well as activities – you could make your own candles, songpyeon, rice toffee and lots more. I was more excited about the food fair that was there. There were lots of food trucks around the village with treats such as grilled steak with noodles, kimchi fried rice, dumplings, and lots more.
We opted for the steak and japchae noodles with a seafood pancake on the side. Yum!
Day 4, KBO Baseball at Jamsil
On Saturday we headed out to watch a baseball game at Jamsil stadium. It was Samsung versus LG, the team we support. We go to the baseball every week as its cheap and good fun but this time it was packed, and roasting hot. We arrived a little late so the only seats that were left were right smack bang in the sun! Fortunately we had brought umbrellas in our bag so following what the Koreans do, we used our umbrellas to shelter us from the scorching sun!
The game went on for nearly 5 hours until LG Twins got a home run in the bottom of the 11th, therefore winning the game! Yay!
Day 5, Brunch at Itaweon
Today is the last day of Chuseok so we came to Itaewon to work and also go for brunch. If it’s one thing I miss it’s a decent brunch. I have been on the hunt for the best brunch in Seoul and this morning we struck gold when we went to The Flying Pan Blue in Itaewon! As we couldn’t decide between sweet or savoury we got one pesto, eggs, mushrooms, hummus on toast and one grilled banana french toast. Wow, it’s the best brunch I have ever had here and definitely top 10 ever!
We went to the Western Supermarket (High Street Market) in Itaewon to pick up some stuff we can’t get at our local EMART – pesto, almond milk, hash browns and most importantly English tea. Unfortunately they don’t have Yorkshire tea, just Lipton so it’s quite weak – but we only have to last until Friday when two of my good friends are coming to visit (hopefully with a big box of Yorkshire tea as requested!)
And that was our Chuseok. It was great to explore more of Korea, meet new people and learn the traditions of this holiday. There were two stand out moments for me:
Leading up to Chuseok I felt a bit emotional that here I was in Korea, celebrating a family holiday but still not knowing where my birth family actually was or who they were. How were they celebrating this holiday? Was she wondering about me, not knowing that I was actually here? What I found so comforting was that Pastor Kim and his volunteers didn’t want us to spend Chuseok alone here. It made me feel grateful that we could spend this holiday with my other family here in Korea; my adoptee family. And we did what we do best – celebrated and drank a lot of Korean booze!
The second moment was at the baseball. As it was so packed at the game we stood at the back alongside the locals in the shade for the last few innings. In front of me was an old man, clearly very in to his baseball and clearly very frustrated that LG Twins was losing. Every play he either cheered or jeered depending on the result. I had been singing (well, attempting to) the LG chants and following the actions he was doing, keen to be a part of the fun. When a decision was being contested, he was watching the slow-motion replay on his phone. I didn’t understand what had happened; there was a pitch, then the batter seemed to run off to the dug-out. The old man showed me the replay on his phone – ah, it had hit his wrist. I pointed to wrist and feigned a pained look. ‘Ne’ he said; ‘yes’ in Korean. When LG Twins equalised in the 8th inning, the stadium erupted and the old man next to me turned around, cheered loudly, gave me a high 5 and hugged me. And I was so happy because I felt like I was being accepted by a Korean. He didn’t know my back story, he didn’t wonder why I couldn’t speak his language; but he wanted to celebrate the win with me, and it had been my first meaningful exchange with someone here. It made me feel like I belonged.