Travel Bug

February 20, 2010

Celebrating 설날 (Seollal)- The Lunar New Year!

Our peaceful Saturday morning was interrupted by a cellphone call, on the other end of the line, the slurred voice of my co-teacher Jinhee. 

"Garry come and play Korean games today!"
Garry, after a long moment of silence "uhhhh...what kind of games?"
"(avoiding the question, as per) Garry, come to the post office by 11 (it was 10.30) and play Korean games".

Always curious about what Korean families do when they aren't working or studying, we arrived just in time! 
After walking through an archway of pink balloons (wedding material, but seem to pop up at any celebration here!) we had just a few seconds to greet the teachers from my school, and their children. Men between the ages of 18 and 65 were apparently excused from this community celebration...Or perhaps they just had more important things to attend to (namely, Golf). Mrs Lee, Mrs Rhee, Mrs Park and Jinhee were all there, and all giving advice on how to play this game we had caught a glimpse of.

The Seollal Festival setup!

Leaving the topic for a moment, a few weekends ago coming home from Daegu Station, we were approached by an old Korean man. Unluckily, Matt (a British friend of ours) was wearing his Lakers cap (purchased in an attempt to humor the American gangstas here). The man approached us as we were finding seats to wait for our train, and starting rambling in Korean. Thinking he wanted our seats, or to get past, we moved out of the way. This did nothing to deter him, so we sat down and tried to ignore him. Impossible as he then started kicking Matt in the leg. Garry and Matt tried to ask him what the problem before Matt left to continue his phone conversation. The man followed Matt all around the station before he eventually returned, old man in tow, now yelling. The hat had long been removed and hidden away!
After a good 10 minutes of abuse we couldn't comprehend a young Korean man and a train station representative attempted to settle the man...The gist of the abuse was that he was, a) drunk (at 3 in the afternoon), b) did not enjoy the presence of foreigners at all in his country, and c) most likely a pathetic and angry old man.
While we have had drunks demand money etc before, this was by far the most aggressive and embarrassing show of racism for the three of us, and the Korean people sitting around us.
It left me thinking about the causes of racism, the mass prejudice and the reputation given to a huge majority of foreigners here as a result of a few... 

It upset me and made me rethink what we were doing here, dislike and distrust of foreigners is not at all uncommon in Korea. After the multi-culturalism of New Zealand society, the homogeneity here comes as a shock.
I was reassured by the warm welcome we were given at the Seollal festival! A number of community elders rushed over to shake our hands and give a few words of encouragement (regarding our work at the schools). 

Jun Young showing Gaz how it's done.

Me, playing with a 7 year old :)

We were given game cards (to keep score on) and sent of for round one of the knock-out tournament, of a game we still had no idea how to play! The game involved 2 players, taking turns to throw 4 sticks (two sided) onto a large circle. The way the sticks landed determined how many points you got, the combination decided whether you got another (each player had 4 stones that he/she had to move around a board to the middle before winning) stone on the board, knocked the other players off and so on...I won one, and then battled against an old man for a second stamp! He narrowly beat me and, smiling for the first time in our intense game, said "you die".
Garry faced off with one of my students (and his very eager and vocal mum) and was convincingly beaten!

Jinhee, Chae Eun and Chae Yean, with thei new mop.

While the game is purely luck and 50-50 chances, the ajumas (older women) took it so seriously! Only they were allowed to touch their stones, they shook and arranged the sticks, as if directing them...and when the raffle (best part of the day) numbers were drawn they crowded around the front of the crowd, squealing with joy at the prize of a sack of rice... The prizes were amazing- bikes, rice, blankets, weed sprayers, a fridge, a kimchi fridge...We went home empty handed, despite desperately wanting bikes! Jinhee won a 'magic mop' and Mrs Rhee scored 2 bags of rice! The community and family atmosphere soothed any prior judgments and gave me a feeling of belonging.

Chae Eun, demonstrating why she's my favourite!

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