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Friday, 16 February 2007

Seollal in Seoul...Chinese New Year back home

On the dates February 17-19th, Koreans will be celebrating Seollal, or Lunar New Year's Day. This is one of the most significant Korean holidays, the other being Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving). This is a time when Koreans make a journey back to their parents' homes and also pay respects to their ancestors. This results in a mass migration (this time around, likely 30 million people will travel) of people all over the country, which can make for spectacular road trips involving multiple "are we there yet?" phrases but in Korean (can anybody translate for me?).

I spoke to all of my students and I would say 90% of them are heading out of town. Some destinations which usually take 2-5 hours will take even longer during Seollal due to the traffic. Most people book their train tickets a month in advance--one of my coworkers booked her train ticket a year in advance (that's what you call planning ahead).

This is also the best time for department stores, as they make a killing selling gift sets. Homever was jam packed with last minute shoppers, all making the preparations for the Lunar New Year.
With the Lunar New Year, we also got some gifts from work. We each got a 1.2kg jar of this rice syrup called "chojong," which is boiled down "shikkae," a barley drink that is widely sold everywhere (thanks Mark!) along with 10,000w gift certificates to Homever--score!

Here's a picture from Homever. Koreans love their gift box sets, ranging from fruit, olive oil, Spam, snacks/candy, and even toothpaste!

One of the most popular gifts are the prepacked sets of fruit, mainly apples, oranges and pears. The prices for these box sets are astounding, probably making it some of the most expensive fruit in the world!

Check this out, eleven Korean pears for 59,000w...or $63USD. Do the math and that equates to $5.72US for ONE PEAR! What makes these pears so special? My guess is there better be GOLD or DIAMONDS inside these pears! But the pears from the Hyundai Department Store during Chuseok still reign as king, coming in at $16US per pear!

Here's another similar box set: four apples, four oranges, and four pears for the bargain price of 59,000w! Hey, at least they come all nice and pretty, gift wrapped for this special time of the year!

Here's another example. 22 golden kiwis for 43,800w or $47US. That equates to $2.13US for ONE KIWI! I don't know if they jack the prices or what, but that is highway robbery to me. Regardless, people were buying these sets up like crazy!

Here's the organic honey/syrup we got from work. If there are any translators out there, feel free to post in the comments. The taste...is...hmm...it has the consistency of honey, but I can't really describe the taste. It's sweet but not very sweet. Koreans eat this on bread and with rice cakes. Every single student at our school received one of these! I had some kids who refused to take this home because it was "too heavy"...my response was "take it home or I'll be getting a phone call from your mom on Tuesday!"

Our 10,000w gift certificates to Homever, a subsidiary of E-land Corp (hmm...maybe I'll spend this on frozen durian...):

So, with our three day weekend we are going to relax and enjoy Seoul. This is probably the best time since so many people have left town! Want to read more about the whole Soellal hoopla? Read more about what Koreans do during Soellal here.

As for myself, I would make the journey back home in Canada to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family, but work does not permit me to do so. So, for everyone reading this back home, "Gung hay fat choy, sun tie geen hong, sum seung see-sing"...don't forget to save my "lai see" for me!


Eva Karrin McKinnon said...

Fun post! I got one of those SPAM gift sets from the school.

In Canada, I'd be insulted!

Anonymous said...

Korean pears are one of the best fruits in the world. It's just so refreshing. If you're lucky, you'll find a diamond in one.

New Years + tradition of brining fruits + Korean Pears = money.

When the prices go down, try one. Especially cut up and cold on a hot summer day, it's better than ice cream. You won't be dissapointed.

Anonymous said...

chojong is a rice syrup. If you keep boilin down shikkae (that barley drink) you get that "honey"

Gary said...

Eva: SPAM is king here in Korea! Don't you love SPAM? Everybody loves SPAM! ;)

Glenn: I've tried the Korean pears which are delicious, but I still prefer Chinese pears as I find they have more flavor. That's just me though.

Mark: You da man. Thanks for that, the post has been edited and credit given. Cheers.

annamatic said...

I got one of those E-land gift certificates out of an ATM machine a coupla weeks ago. Instead of 10,000 Won! Grrr. Was wondering what I could do with it, cuz who in the world shops at E-land?! Guess I'll make a trip to Homever.. :)

Anonymous said...

What does "Sun tie gen hong" translate to in English?

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