Lunar New Year

The weekend after I came back from my winter break travels, my host family celebrated the Lunar New Year, or Seollal. Along with Chuseok, Seollal is one of the most important holidays in Korea. I’ve mentioned before that my host family is always busy and does not spend a lot of time together, but this weekend was a brief time for them to take a break and enjoy each other’s company.

Seollal lasts for three days, and Koreans usually spend the holiday with their extended family, especially the elders. I spent most of my time with Su Bin and some of my host cousins, all of whom were in high school. The cousins stayed in our apartment until the end of the holiday, so there were a lot of people around!

On the first night of the holiday, I went to a bowling alley with Su Bin and the cousins. During college, I went bowling once a year with the orchestra, but I always dreaded it because my bowling ball went in the gutter at least half of the time. When I looked at the scoreboard at the end of the game, I would always think I would rather have my golf score in bowling and my bowling score in golf.

Su Bin wasn’t prepared for my epic badness at bowling. “Like this,” she kept saying, trying to show me the “proper” technique. Eventually, she and one of her cousins just kept chanting, “Ken-cha-na! Ken-cha-na!” (It’s okay! It’s okay!) every time I picked up my bowling ball. They learned not to expect too much from me.

When we came back home and Ye Bin returned from work, Su Bin told her about the bowling. I couldn’t understand everything she said because she spoke in Korean, but her imitation of my technique suggested that she was talking about how terrible I was. Ye Bin nodded sympathetically. “I understand. There’s no bowling in America,” she said knowingly.

Yeah, sure. We’ll go with that.

The next day, we went to Host Dad’s parents’ house in Miryang, like we did for Chuseok. My host grandfather and his sons’ families were there, so it was a full house. Before we left Gimhae, Su Bin and I baked cookies and brownies to bring with us. The dense chocolaty goodness was incongruous with the traditional Korean snacks that the aunts and uncles brought, but the cousins seemed to appreciate our efforts!

The most important Seollal tradition is to perform sebae, a deep bow on your knees to pay respect to the elders in the family. In this case, everyone had to perform sebae to the grandfather. Because my Host Dad is the oldest son, his family paid their respects first. Ye Bin, Su Bin and I bowed, followed by Host Mom and Host Dad. The other cousins, aunts and uncles were next. As soon as all the grandchildren finished their bows, Host Grandfather pulled out a wad of banknotes and handed a few to each of the grandchildren–including me. I felt embarrassed and wanted to protest, but Host Mom pushed me forward to accept it.

“Now, we are rich!” said Ye Bin gleefully, counting her money before stuffing it in her purse.

For dinner, we ate tteokguk, which is a soup with thinly-sliced rice cakes, egg, beef, and seaweed. It’s meant to bring good luck in the new year. After dinner, I played a few traditional games with some of the younger cousins. We headed back to Gimhae later that night.

On the last day of the three days, I joined Su Bin and her cousins on a trip to Gyeongju. At first, they wanted to rent bicycles and tour the city, but the frigid weather changed their minds and we took a bus to a few of the historic sites instead. I’ve been to Gyeongju before, but it was Su Bin’s first visit. We stopped by the museum, the tombs, and one of the temples. At first, I felt like I was an annoying sibling “tagging along,” but they enjoyed taking pictures with me in front of the different places. I think they also liked that I used my sebae money to buy them snacks!

As the holiday came to an end and things started to settle down, I was glad to be reintegrated into the family. After being away for a while, I needed some time to readjust to life in Korea.  I’m ready for the start of a new semester–for some springtime weather!

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