Tuesday, January 20, 2004

subway madness, etc.

Much as some of us Koreabloggers bash the monolithic nature of Korean culture, the culture often proves it's not nearly as monolithic as all that. Today's subway ride was a great example. While going from Daebang Station to my residence near Dolgoji Station, I saw

(1) the strangest (and perhaps most harmless) Christian preacher I've ever seen, a man with a drugged-looking smile who kept telling us that "we are all connected" and kept repeating, "peace, peace";

(2) a toothbrush salesman, hawking 10-packs of toothbrushes for 1000 won, and reassuring us that these same brushes sell for 400-500 won apiece at your local market;

(3) a woman selling mini photo albums;

(4) a blind beggar, pity-inducing music blaring from the cassette player hung around his neck, shuffling down the length of the subway car... and finally, while transferring from Line 1 to Line 6 at Seokgye Station,

(5) a deaf couple who very nearly ended up tumbling down the "down" escalator while trying to carry a heavy box between them. They were teetering; I almost had a heart attack and ran after them to see what I could do, but the lady, who was most in danger of falling, had righted herself by the time I arrived.

Also saw a lot of soldiers in fatigues today. Anything to do with New Year's?

While the US is commemorating Martin Luther King (cf. the Maximum Leader's insights here, and a Washington Post article here, and Keith Burgess-Jackson's MLK quote here), here in Korea we're gearing up for the Year of the Monkey. Seol-nal (pronounce it "sull-lahl") is officially January 22nd, but the nation gets the 21st through the 23rd off. For many, time will be spent on the road, enduring incredible traffic jams that can last around 14-16 hours as people head out of Seoul and back to their hometowns. Poor bastards. Lunar New Year's is very much a family holiday in Korea; it's a time for the family to meet at the k'eun-jip (lit. "big house," but usually the house of the eldest son), eat good food, bow to one's elders (and, in the kids' cases, receive money for bowing), and generally hang out.

There aren't any little kids left in my family. We, the younger generation, are now college age and above, and none of us is married yet, so no grandkids are crawling around. The net result is that Seol-nal ends rather abruptly these days, as we 20- and 30-somethings get impatient, declare we have other things to do, and leave the adults at home. From their perspective, I imagine that can be a bit saddening, and maybe we young'ns are being selfish. But I usually get the urge to move around after a while, so when the time comes, I bow out-- generally around lunchtime (we start ceremonies around 8:30 in the morning, and eat around 10:30 or so, a kind of brunch).

I'll wear a suit this year-- something normally I despise doing, but it's a gesture of respect to the elders, who are usually decked out in their traditional best. Our eldest Adjoshi decided last year that, when the time comes for the kids to bow (there are maybe six of us), we should all bow together. This is hilarious, because during the bowing, the only noise we should hear is the soft rustling of clothing, but because I'm there, and I'm terrible at doing the saebae (traditional prostration: onto one's knees, then forehead and palms to floor), the silence is shattered by the gunshot sound of my massive joints cracking. Thank God I haven't farted accidentally while in full prostration, though I don't put it past my ass to try and leak one out one of these years.

Anyway, Happy New Year. The Year of the Monkey. Get your spank on.


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