Monday, September 28, 2009

Happy Death Day!

I originally thought that the trip to Go-houn was to celebrate my Grandfather's birthday. And, in the process, we were going to honor his deceased wife. Well, I got it halfway right. I never met Grandpa...maybe he's dead, too. But we definitely celebrated the death of my Grandmother. The anniversary of your parent's death is a big deal here, and there's a very formal ceremony to honor it.

We spent the night and day at Oh-nee's brother's country house in Go-houn. It was a beautiful Korean house built on a beautiful hill that overlooked beautiful mountains and countryside. The road to get there was about as wide as a car. About an inch off of the road were walls. That was a fun ride for someone sick to her stomach (read the previous post).

Picture taken from the house

The only thing that bugged me about the house was the lack of furniture. There were no couches, chairs or beds in the entire house. Only a hardwood floor. I got so sick of sitting on the floor by the end of the trip that I would just stand in the corner for the sake of not having to crouch.

Oh-nee has three brothers and five sisters, but I think only two of the sisters made it to the party. Oh-nee spent all of Monday cooking. I had no idea why she was cooking so much. As far as I knew at the time, there were only 7 of us at this point in time. Well, by 7:00 there were 20 people. All of the dishes Oh-nee made were plated on really nice wood trays and then placed on an alter-like table. The alter had a picture of - who I assumed was - Oh-nee's mom, some script of some kind and candles. Oh-nee's brother's son - "Call me Kenny" - spoke excellent English and explained that white foods (such as chicken, Deok, pears) were placed on the left side of the alter while red foods (such as apples, beef) were placed on the right. The fish were placed on the right but with their heads pointing to the left to illustrate their ability to be both red and white.

Making Kimchee

At 8:00, the family all gathered in front of the alter and performed the traditional bows. Each family group poured some kind of alcohol into the cups on the alter, as if giving it to the spirit...? Then they would bow as a single-family unit and make room for the next unit. I was briefly taught how to bow back in Chuncheon, so I didn't make a complete fool of myself.

My favorite part of the alter: the chicken.

A brief video

After the ritual, everyone eats at least one thing from the alter. According to Kenny, it is to pass on the luck from the ritual. I had a hard boiled egg. It was delicious. Then the serious eating began. I've never seen so much Korean food in one place before. But the family did a pretty good job of finishing it.

No cake. I was pretty bummed. But the Deok was delicious (Korean sweet rice cakes. Think "big, doughy gusher").

So, Grandma's death day falls five days before Chuseok, the day to celebrate all of the dead. So I will be doing the exact same thing next weekend. I'm going to be a pro. :)

All in all, the weekend was miserable for me (I just wanted to go home, lounge, read, relax, on a non-floor surface) but very important for my family. The family seemed very happy and excited that I was there, and my Kong family seemed especially glad that I seemed to have enjoyed myself. Family first.

We came back home around midnight. My cold had escalated over the course of the day, so I couldn't wait to sleep. Well, sleep lasted only two hours. I woke up unable to breathe and with a high fever. Luckily, I live next to the insane asylum, which acts as the emergency room off-hours. Bronchitis. Yipee. Off to the "injection room" for your happy mystery shot. Here's some mystery medicine for tomorrow. Go to the doctor tomorrow during one of your breaks.

Today during my break I was lucky enough to get another trip to the injection room for another happy mystery shot because my stupid fever hadn't come down. Here's some more mystery medicine for the next five days. Between the two trips to the doctor and the two trips to the injection room, half the town of Gurye knows I'm sick and all of the faculty, staff and students at the High School know that I took two shots from behind in one day. Perfect. Gotta love high school.

On the bright side, my students behaved extra well today. I was really surprised with the girls. If it looked like I was struggling in any way during class, they yelled at the misbehaving students to shut up, sit down and listen to teacher. Maybe this sick-in-a-small-town thing isn't as bad as I thought. :)


  1. Hi Amy, sorry you are having a few rough days. We all wish we could bring you some chicken soup, or fish soup if you would prefer. Hopefully the shot and medicine will kick in and you will feel better soon.

    The death ceremony sounds interesting and I have heard of Cheseok, or seen on discovery. Will be anxious to hear all about it. Nothing to new here, Tigger escaped for a day, but is home and only had a small nick on his ear. For coming home, he got the opprotunity to get to know the Vet again, which was interesting to say the least. Weather is turning colder, only about 45-50 today and dreary, so I guess winter is not far behind.

    Feel better soon, and we love you and miss you lots.

    Aunt Sandy and Uncle Jeff, and Tigger too.

  2. I didn't know about the white and red "sides" of the table. My parents were from the north for one thing (sometimes there are small differences in the custom depending on the region) but also because we never did the table of food "offered up to the spirit". We did cook lots of food and relatives came over though and visited the graves. I never thought of it as "happy death day" but that makes sense, as once one's parents pass away, it's the date of their passing that matter and the birthdays are no longer as significant.

  3. Looking at the first photo I thought, boy south Korea sure is beautiful country!