Chuseok, or Mid Autumn Festival, is a celebration on fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month. It is celebrated in Korea along with China and other East Asian countries. Koreans typically return to their hometowns, pay homage to their ancestors, and eat typical harvest foods like rice wine and special rice cakes. Thanksgiving is the American parallel.
Rachel, Busan tutor has officially earned a name, invited me to her home for a sleepover and extended Chuseok holiday celebration. She picked me up at the station the day before and our adventure began.
I wasn’t sure if I could call her friend just yet. Weren’t we too different? Then she told me she wants to change her name because the fortuneteller said that would bring her better luck. I thought to myself, you have no right to judge people and everyone has their own quirks. Let your friends be their weird wild selves and accept them as they are.
We ended up sharing a lot of secrets laying in bed later that night, the true hallmark of a sleepover and the certain cementation of friendship.
Day one was a rush from her house, to a beach cafe in a different city, to her parents’ house for dinner, back to her house, then to her uncle’s house for persimmons and more jokes.
Rachel’s aunt is a petite woman with a curly bob but old style bump in her hair from a pushed-forward headband.
While her aunt was really sweet her uncle, I’m not really sure how to describe him, I could never tell if he was joking or dead serious. There was another uncle there who was much more fun and very tan to which Rachel‘s father explained to me, “he’s from Viet Kong!” which made Rachel pinch her nose and tell her dad that was racist.
Her cousin appeared who is the same age as her and what a relief to spend time with people in their 30s. The three of us sat on the far corner of the room-sized padded mat like kids and watched compilation reaction videos to WAP while her tan uncle fell asleep a few feet away.
The adults sat on the other side of the mat and argued about who knows what. It felt like being a kid again. The three of us rolled around on the floor and giggled at silly inside jokes and I’m proud that I can be funny with my pre-intermediate Korean.
Later the aunt was very intrigued by my stick on nails, which Rachel had given me a few weeks before, and commented that my hands were pretty but they were also very cold. This is an observation that many Korean women make after touching my hands.
I said my mom is like this too and even though I sweat everywhere my hands are always cold. Usually this is met with the concerned suggestion to visit the traditional medicine clinic.
There was a change in schedule so Rachel’s sister along with her niece and nephew came over to spend the night. In the morning I danced to entertain them while we ate fried rice and army stew.
I also played fashion show Barbies with my niece and a boxing type fight to the death spinning top game with my nephew. Both of them pointed to the broom in the corner and said that it was my boyfriend. Those clever kids! I had forgotten our inside joke from a few weeks before.
Rachel‘s cousin called in to invite himself along since he had so much fun the prior evening. I was happy he would join, I love spending time with people who are goofy and fun without the mean, selfish edge that some extroverts flaunt as if fun for its own sake is shameful.
We picked him up then crashed a different aunt’s house to eat her food and then left for pink mulli fields which were much less exciting than Instagram suggested.
We sang early 2000s songs from Britney to Backstreet (for some reason this is what she listened to as a kid) while her cousin listened from the backseat in silent confusion.
We stopped by her parents’ house once more where they and a neighbor friend were shucking garlic. Her mom sent me off with more goodies and in the car Rachel told me that her mom had been touched I brought a hostess gift.
Southern etiquette upbringing for the win!
I think there’s something to be said about the open and casual nature of Busan people because I’ve never felt so comfortable with another person’s family than I have with people in Busan.
And that’s considering that I didn’t speak English with her family at all!
I’m so grateful to her taking care of me, introducing me to her family, and treating me as a guest but never an outsider.
In what world can I meet someone’s relatives and immediately feel like I belong? This one, I’ve found. This Korean life.
When I think about waking up to two Korean kids wanting to play my heart is full. The immediate acceptance that Korean families have shown me is so wonderful and unlike anything I’ve felt before. It brings back the rush of early mornings with tin cups and open windows and unconditional love at my grandmother’s house.
Here I don’t have to ask, I simply am.