Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Weekend Trip to Jinju

Last weekend was one of the biggest Korean holidays of the year, Chuseok. It's a harvest festival involving a big meal, so I've heard a lot of people call it "Korean Thanksgiving," but of course, it's pretty different from the American version. We were fortunate to be invited to a Korean family's home to celebrate the holiday.

Some of you know that Keegan and I have a house in Charlottesville that we're renting out. Keegan's dad found a tenant through the university, and he happens to be South Korean. His name is Yoon, and he was a guest at our wedding. Well, it turns out that his nephew, Sung, lived in the U.S. for ten years while he went to middle school, high school, and college, and he was a perfect ambassador to introduce us to the rest of the family. His mother, Yoon's sister, and his father, a doctor, live in Jinju. So on Saturday morning, Keegan and I got up early and drove for about an hour and a half to the city of Jinju to meet the Han family.

During the morning, we spent some time getting to know the family over juice and fruit. Both parents speak some English, especially Dr. Han. Mrs. Han is a fantastic golf player, a world traveler, and an enthusiastic scrapbooker. They were very friendly, open people, and we enjoyed talking to them. After our snack, we went out for lunch at a beautiful Korean restaurant close to the river. Keegan was complimented on his expert use of chopsticks, and we enjoyed our seafood pancake, bi bim bap (rice and veggies), and beef cooked at the table. There was also soup, kim chee, and lots of little side dishes. After lunch we visited a really beautiful little cafe with a nicely landscaped outdoor area and a glass-floored section with huge, elegant koi swimming underneath. We drank some sweet rice drink, and Sung's parents told us stories about the Jinju fortress that we would visit that afternoon. Mostly they spoke in Korean, and Sung translated for us. It was a good opportunity for me to practice Korean. I am at the level where I can catch a few words in passing and then wait to confirm my understanding of those few words in the translation. It's like hearing the subject of a sentence but no verbs, adjectives, or other information. So there are a lot of gaps to be filled in!

After coffee (have you noticed that we have already done a lot of eating on this trip?) we went to the Jinju fortress, which is a meticulously maintained, sunny park dotted with colorful buildings and temples. We got to see a changing of the guard ceremony with all the participants dressed in colorful, old-fashioned Korean costumes and then a martial arts demonstration. We had a lot of fun learning to shoot a bow and arrow and beating a huge, very loud Korean drum. We climbed into a couple of brightly painted pavilions and were treated to lovely views of the city. Sung named one of the pavilions the "chillax pavilion," demonstrating his superb knowledge of American slang so new that even Keegan and I have rarely heard it. His term also points out something that I love about these pavilions - there are always at least a few people laying peacefully in them, flat on their backs, enjoying the nice breeze. It seems to me that people work hard here, and then they rest hard.

In the afternoon, we visited the Jinju National Museum, where we watched a 3-D movie about a historical battle between the Koreans and the Japanese that took place in Jinju. The Koreans in the fortress were about to withstand a Japanese force almost ten times their size. Sung warned us that the movie was corny, but I'll admit that I enjoyed it. I can't remember the last time I saw a 3-D movie! The museum's main exhibit was closed for remodeling, but we saw a small exhibit of various artifacts from the time of the Japanese invasion, including some beautiful paintings on silk. There was also a photography exhibit with pictures from Mongolia and the Gobi desert - absolutely stunning landscapes.

After our long visit to the fortress, we headed back to the Hans' apartment for dinner. Sung's mom made a lot of really delicious food. We had a noodle dish called jop chae (sp?), which was yummy, and we also had a really good bi bim bap with good fresh veggies and not too much spice for my wimpy palate. She also made a tofu soup that had a really unique, sweet flavor. This was the first time I had homemade Korean food, and I enjoyed it quite a bit!

After dinner we spent the evening looking at memorabilia and pictures that Mrs. Han had saved from her sons' growing up. There were certificates and letters and graduation programs and all kinds of photos. We saw some photos of our friend Yoon as a boy and lots of photos from Sung's time in the U.S. at school. It was funny to be in Korea looking at pictures of what seemed to be a fairly typical U.S. adolescence. We all enjoyed all of the little scraps that Mrs. Han saved, so I feel more inspired now to get to work on my wedding scrapbooks!

Once it was dark, we went back out again to see the fortress all lit up in the evening. They are preparing for a huge lantern show in Jinju at the beginning of October, involving hundreds of larger-than-life lighted silk lanterns floating on the river near the fortress. It should be truly amazing, and we're hoping to go back for it. We saw a lot of the lanterns in various stages of preparation - some with just a wire frame and lightbulbs, others with unpainted silk, and others completely ready to be floated. There was also a huge fountain with multi-colored lights that "danced" to music blaring over the field. We stood and watched that mesmerising display for a while before we headed back home to bed. We would have to get up really early on Sunday in order to make it to Busan for the Chuseok festivities of Yoon's family there.

1 comment:

Jamie said...

Oh, those lanterns sound beautiful! I can't wait to hear more about the holidays and festivals you experience in the future! For some reason the idea of brightly colored painted lanterns reminds me of the time we painted gourds at Nita's - festive, seasonal, artistic, and (in some cases) beautiful!