#chuseok: a Thanksgiving in Korea

Chuseok, one of the biggest and most important holiday in Korea, is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. This year, it began on the 3rd of October. However, thanks to Foundation Day (October 3rd) and Hangeul Day (October 9th), this year’s Chuseok is a beautiful 10-day break.

Similar to our Thanksgiving, Chuseok is a celebration of the good harvest and of course, Koreans would travel back to their hometowns for the holiday leaving Seoul a deserted city. Traveling outside of Seoul during Chuseok, be it back to their hometowns or outside of the country, is a must. But it can be quite tricky. Train and flight tickets must be booked way in advance if you don’t want to spend a fortune for a ticket that normally would cost $20. Traveling by car or bus during this time is not recommended as traffic would be a nightmare.

If you’re going to be in Korea during this long holiday, be sure to book your tickets at least a month in advance. Jeju Island (flight) and Busan (KTX)  are highly recommended during this time if you want to stay in Korea. If you’re looking to travel outside of the country, look into Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Thailand. Flight tickets to those countries will be extremely expensive so make sure to book them far in advance if you’re planning to go to those. And if you want to travel around Asia around this time but don’t want to spend your all of your life savings on one trip then Vietnam is a cheap alternative. Whatever you end up picking, remember to plan ahead…. Unless you want to be like me and be stuck in Seoul for the holiday.

I did not plan ahead for the holiday (I never plan ahead anyways..) so I ended up spending the holiday in Seoul. It wasn’t bad actually. There are still things to do even if you’re stuck in the city. I was able to see another side of Seoul, one that you wouldn’t be able to witness otherwise. When the holiday hit, Seoul completely transformed into another city. The usually crowded Seoul became a deserted one. It was quite a scene to see.

But… before that, let’s talk about the annual Hanhwa Seoul International Fireworks Festival right before Chuseok. Ever since 2000, Hanhwa Group, a leading corporate in Korea, would invite major fireworks companies to light up the night skies at the Han River before the holiday. It became a tradition for the citizens of Seoul to gather at the Han River that night to watch the fantastic displays of fireworks. Did I say citizens of Seoul? It was more like the entire Korea came to the festival. The streets were packed. People had tents and mats everywhere. It was difficult to even walk but somehow, we were able to find an empty spot to sit near the front.

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This year, three different types of displays were presented. The United States kicked off with a beautifully organized display of fireworks in three different colors: red, blue, and white. Italy followed with a more energized display. And last but not least, Korea hit it hard with an amazing show. Korea’s show was longer and at a larger scale. At one point, the entire bridge near there were covered with smoke due to the huge amount of fireworks being fired at the same time. I felt sorry for the environment but no doubt, it was truly a beautiful work of art.

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A small suggestion if you’re planning to attend the festival. Leave before the end of the show. You will have to urge to stay for the entire show but trust me, you want to leave before everyone else does. Also, do not take the subways right there. Power walk to a stop either before or after to avoid the giant mass of people. And of course, I would not recommend taking the taxi out of there.

Don’t get too used to the crowdedness during this time because when Chuseok hits, you will feel very lonely in Seoul. A majority of the stores and restaurants will be closed, except for like McDonalds and KFCs. But most importantly, all of the convenience stores will be open! But still, plan ahead if you’re going to stay in Seoul (or outside of Seoul!) during Chuseok.

On the day of Chuseok, Jeep (Exchange, Thailand) invited me and 4 other friends over to her place for a house party not only to celebrate Chuseok but also to commemorate our 1 month of meeting each other. Guess what we ate? THAI FOOD! We had the honor to taste Chef Jeep’s delicious Thai dishes. And let me tell you, the food was amazing. It was our first home-cooked meal ever since we got to Korea and we can’t thank Jeep enough for cooking us such a delicious dinner!

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Many thought that it was waste not leaving the country when we had such a long holiday but I didn’t regret it at all. In fact, I was glad that I stayed in Seoul to see a more peaceful, and of course, beautiful side of Seoul. It was also a great chance to catch up on schoolwork because trust me, you do not want to slack off when you’re at the nation’s best university.

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