Monday, February 11, 2013

Happy Lunar New Year!

Yesterday was Seollal, the Korean Lunar New Year! This differs only from "Chinese" New Year in that it is celebrated differently by a different culture; the date, however, is the same.

The word Seollal is 설날 in Korean. If you can read Hangul, the Korean alphabet, then you might notice that the individual syllables are seol (설) and nal (날). Seol refers to the new year, and nal means "day". Hence, New Year's Day. However, in Korean phonology, an syllable-initial "n" that follows a syllable-final "l" becomes elided or assimilated into the "l". Thus, instead of Seolnal, we celebrate Seollal.

To wish someone a Happy New Year in Korean, however, you don't even have to worry about linguistics. The traditional New Year's greeting is 새해 복 많이 받으세요. Let's break this down: 새해 (saehae) is another way to refer to the new year, using the native Korean words for "new" (새/sae) and "year" (해/hae). Next, 복 (bok) means "happiness", and 많이 (man-hee) means "much". Lastly, 받으세요 (padeuseyo) is a respectable way to ask someone to receive something. So, 새해 복 많이 받으세요, or Saehae bok manhee padeuseyo, means, "May you receive lots of new year's happiness (or blessings)!"

So, what did I do for Seollal? Well, the Korean tradition is to travel to see your family, make and eats lots of food, and perform some ancestral rights. In fact, it's very similar to the customs of Chuseok, only with different food and a different vibe. Chuseok is the most important Korean holiday, and pretty much everything shuts down invariably. Seollal is probably holiday number two. It's a bit more festive, less solemn, and also observed less. Maybe this is because I was in Seoul this time, but a lot more businesses and restaurants were open than I'd expected, and the city in general seemed no less empty than on any other Sunday morning.

On Sunday morning, my apartmentmates and I all woke up rather late and straggled to a lunch date at The Flying Pan Blue. This place is arguably one of the most famous restaurants (for tourists) in Seoul. It's located in Itaewon, the international district of the city, and specializes in European-style breakfast and brunch. By European-style breakfast, I mean eggs, pancakes, French toast, and delicious lattes. Although the meal was pricey, I think it was well worth it. Every time one of our dishes was brought out, everyone gasped, oohed, and aahed at how pretty it was, and how wonderful it would feel to have that deliciousness soon in our stomachs. And yes, it was delicious.

Mandu-making. Photo courtesy Jessica.
For dinner that night, we went to a fellow Fulbrighter's apartment for a mandu-making party. Mandu (만두) are Korean dumplings. Well, they're just dumplings. I guess what makes them Korean is that they're made in Korea, and they have kimchi in them.

Anyway, this little New Year's get-together was so much fun! Jessica and Connor got a ton of ingredients (dumpling skins, ground beef, mushrooms, rice noodles, veggies, kimchi, peppers, and more), gave us the low-down on how to properly fold a dumpling, and we all sat down on the ground to make them together. I've only made dumplings once before in my life, so mine weren't great.

They say that if your dumplings are ugly, then your future daughters are doomed to the same fate. We had a lot of fun predicting the various levels of misery we were all going to inflict on our progeny.

In the end, our company produced over six dozen lumpy, floury, misshapen, and delicious dumplings that we then cooked with 딱국 (rice cake soup) or pan-fried to crispy perfection. Then, we ate them all. And we also had wine and cake. Now if that doesn't make for a great dinner party, I don't know what does.
Our first batch of mandu!
And that was New Year's Day. But as is typical for Korean holidays, it stretches out over some time. My host family actually traveled from Changwon to Seoul for the new year, and this morning (Monday), they were still around. So, they invited me over to my host mother's mother's apartment in the northern part of the city for lunch. We had 만두떡국 (manu ddeokguk/dumpling rice cake soup), which is a traditional new year dish and other stuff. It was nice to see them on the holiday again. And now, I've met the extended family of my homestay family on both sides!

Happy New Year! 운수대통합니다! It's the year of the snake on the Chinese zodiac. So hiss a bit when you greet your Korean friends: ㅆ~새해 복 많이 받으ㅆ~세요! Okay, that was lame, I know.

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