Chuseok Travels

’tis the season to be jolly as this weekend is the festival of Chuseok.  Generally described as the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving, Chuseok is timed on a lunar cycle to fall at this time of year and in old English terms might best be compared to the Harvest Festival.  It is also very much a time for family gatherings and the exchanging of gifts, so similar to Christmas too in some ways.

As a child I used to take some sort of food-related offering to school or church during Harvest Festival.  Most Chuseok gifts follow the same theme with large boxes of apples and presentation packs of fish or sausages or ginseng root or such like being sold by the armful in the couple of weeks leading up to the holiday.

The seasonal gift that particularly caught my eye was the presentation pack of Spam.  For anyone who has experienced post-war English school catering and/or enjoyed the work of Monty Python, twelve tins of Spam in a gift box being carried away in glossy, Spam-branded, boutique-style carrier bag is quite a sight to behold.

Unlike Harvest Festival or Christmas, Chuseok is a four-day national holiday over a long weekend.  This made Friday and Saturday at work very quiet indeed as the yard was all but closed.  In a place where twenty-five thousand people are usually loudly busy from before dawn ’til after dusk, it was eerie hearing silence all day and seeing barely a dozen souls during the ten-minute drive between the front gate and the office.

All those people had to be somewhere and we found them on the highway yesterday evening.  The Saturday morning of Chuseok is typically a time for traditional ceremonies with the family.  Many who have travelled to be with their kith and kin then get back on the road that afternoon and head home.

When I finished work on Saturday, we caught the bus to Seoul in preparation to meet my mother-in-law off the ‘plane at Incheon.  The journey usually takes around four hours.  On this occasion, we hit the first of the traffic jams after three hours and it took a further two hours to reach the Nambu Terminal.

We were the lucky ones: there is a dedicated bus lane on the highway approaching Seoul and we were able to whisk past much of the traffic.  Had we been driving in a car, our five-hour journey could easily have lasted twice as long or more.

At time of writing it is Sunday in Incheon and we are in a room at the Hyatt Regency with a view towards the airport.  The terminal building looks fancifully like the skeleton of a giant aircraft that has been partially excavated from the ground.  Curved structures of glass and unpainted metal describe the front of a fuselage and a huge wing with two engines while the control tower behind marks where a tail-plane would be.

Back to reality, Mama’s flight is due to land mid-afternoon after which it is an hour’s transfer by bus back to Nambu Terminal and we are back on the road south to Geoje.  We are not sure what to expect of the traffic but each of us will have a good book at the ready.