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Tuesday, September 28

Chuseok

Dear Reader! I am officially back On The Grid! After a three month hiatus, The Fold is back, with the same old look and the same stream of consciousness style you have grown to accept. Thanks for reading, Rori. If it weren't for you...well, I'd probably keep posting anyway.

So, it's the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month again, and everyone knows what that means! The Wiccan Sabbat of Mabon! Or, as it's otherwise known in Korea, Chuseok (秋夕). It's a time when everyone piles into their Hyundai minivans and enjoys hours of quality time with family while stuck on gridlocked highways. Thankfully, I managed to make my way to my adopted ancestral home of Andong without a hitch.

Much like Japan's Obon, Chuseok is a time when Koreans pay respect to their ancestors and elders. Yoonsung spent all of yesterday preparing the traditional offering to the dead, an elaborate greasy pile of meat, fish and vegetables. This morning, a quick twenty minute drive brought us to a small group of houses surrounded by rice fields, where everyone shared Yoonsung's last name. Ji-ville.

Unlike the Japanese, most rural Koreans bury their dead in the mountains (i.e. they don't cremate). The first grave we visited was that of Yoonsung's great-great grandfather. Like most of the graves, it was nothing more than a grassy mound, about chest high, projecting out from a slope. Nothing indicated what lay underneath; no headstone, no sign, no graveyard. The offering was placed in front of the grave, makkoli rice wine was sprinkled on the grass and everyone kowtowed about ten times.

The second grave we visited was that of Yoonsung's father. It looked identical to the first. We kowtowed again. And again. And again. I have no idea what would happen to all these graves if people stopped tending to them. Just think, the mountains must be covered with centuries-old abandoned graves.

The Koreans are really into kowtowing, and not just to the dead. It was a bit of a kowtow fiesta at our next destination, Yoonsung's great-grandfather's youngest brother's wife's house. A lot of people came down from Seoul to kowtow to granny, a wizened brown peanut of a woman with a broad smile and sparkling eyes. Im Chansang, the director of a film called "The President's Barber", was one of the visitors. Seems he and Yoonsung share a great-grandfather. I asked him if he needed any foreign actors for his next project and he laughed--probably more at me than with me.

More than anything else, Chuseok convinced me that the Confucian ethic is alive and well in Korea.

I had, however, heard about various traditional games that people play during the holiday, and was a bit disappointed that the only game I got to play was Uno.

From the Korea Herald:
"A feeling of carefree abandon and joy like what you once experienced in your younger days can only be relived through the traditional games that are played during Chuseok. In the game of "somuginori," two people dress up as a bull and go door to door asking for food."

Actually, it sounds like a childhood memory that I would not want to relive.

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