Korean Coffee and Tea in the 90’s…

Lemon tea, or ‘Yujacha’ is popular and has citrus rinds and sweet, thickened lemon juice in each big jar to spoon into your cup of hot water.

Instant coffee…

The coffee situation in Korea was not very advanced in the 1990’s. Koreans seemed to like coffee but I never saw or heard of there being any percolators in apartments and never noticed any ground coffee in stores. I only ever saw instant coffee there in most of my travels back then. There were many vending machines placed outside on a lot of streets. Most of these machines were selling little paper cups with around a third of a cup of hot instant coffee in them. It cost 350 won for each cup and you could choose coffee having milk and sugar or choose black. To me that was just around 35 Canadian cents a cup. These machines seemed to be everywhere I went, in tourist areas and on sidewalks, and sometimes I did get a cup, although I found the cups tiny and wasn’t crazy about it being instant.

Sometimes an office had little paper pouches of powdered ready-made coffee mix to pour into your hot water in your cup. That was your coffee break. The hot water always came from a water machine that had hot water or cold water to drink – you dispensed it yourself from a spout into your cup and the ‘spouts’ always were a blue colour for cold or a red one signifying hot water. The package of mix had instant coffee mixed with sugar and powdered whitener and you stirred it around and that was as generally good as it got for having a cup of coffee in Korea in 1997. I never did see a coffee mug once!

In the top right-hand corner are 2 packets of instant coffee mix that are just like what I had! Sugar and whitener are in the mix. The red Maxim brand was featured on most of the vending machines selling the little cups of coffee and most of the machines were mainly a red colour because of it. I remember always thinking Maxim was copying the Maxwell House name.

Coffee shops, which were new, expensive places to me, as my area of Canada didn’t have any such places, sold a cup of coffee that was in a western-style teacup, for ₩4000 to ₩5000, which was atrocious in my mind because that was like over 4 dollars or over 5 dollars. Over 20 years ago! The coffee served to me in these cafes tasted like instant coffee, and I thought it was a small amount too. But not as small as the 35 won cups from the vending machines! The ‘coffee shops’ or ‘cafes’ may have been serving ground coffee and it may have been brewed, but it certainly didn’t seem to be. It was slightly gritty and there seemed to almost be some kind of filmy residue in it. They almost always gave you your coffee already mixed with sugar and whitener whereas in Canada, many times the customer puts his own in himself.

When I talked one time to Sail Lee, a salesman at LG Cellphones in my Karibong teaching job, about these coffee shops he said the prices were so high because you were paying for the atmosphere in them. One we both went to near my institute, or ‘hogwan’, had an all-wooden interior as the shop’s theme. We have a lot of wood in Canada but Sail explained that in Korea wood had to be imported from Southeast Asia, like Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand. He told me wood in Korea was almost non-existent and was very expensive to import, so it was rare to see it there. This was actually true. Houses and office buildings were made of brick, cement, granite and steel. Parts of temples or palace buildings were so special in part because they were made of wood.

The vending machines selling little cups of coffee in the late ’90s looked similar to these recent ones above but the machines were usually red. There were no machines selling sodapop back then like in this picture. Other common machines at the time sold little cups of hot tea, as I will explain about below.

Back to coffee and tea…When you were given white sugar to mix into your powdered coffee it was in cubes and wasn’t as sweet as the sugar I was accustomed to in Canada. Sometimes the cubes were light brown in colour. And you were given a sort of coffee whitener you had to put in your coffee, not milk or cream, as dairy products were not common over there. The whitener could be a thick liquid if it was a fancier set-up or usually it was a powder in little packets. On the subject of their sugar, I saw some Effem chocolate bars in convenience stores, like Mars and Snickers but when I bit into them, the chocolate was not very sweet! I looked at the packages and they came from Australia. I think the food not being as sweet as North American foods is wonderful, as what Canadians have is made from ‘high fructose syrup’ and is unnatural, ‘fake’ sugar. Like I have written before, everything was different there, even the coffee, sugar and cream that we took for granted any day in Canada and the USA.

A number of Korean ways and names copied the west over there, but they had ‘opposite’ policies. For example, there was Maxim for Maxwell House and highway signs said, “dial 119” for an emergency instead of 911 that we had in North America. Funny how somebody in government years ago who organised progressive policies must have deliberately chosen opposite-to-the-West terms and businessmen must have chosen product names that were similar to western products back then.

I remember wanting coffee to drink when my husband and I were travelling in Busan and Gyeongju in late 1999 and there wasn’t much chance of finding any at all as we were not in Seoul. Coffee was lacking in Seoul but at least there were vending machines and cafes selling a bit. I have a few memories of looking at the streets in these cities outside of Seoul and thinking wistfully about a cup of coffee. I know a large number of trendy cafes have spread to many places around Korea by now and that franchises like Starbucks are plentiful. Many things have changed very quickly throughout the whole country, I’ve noticed. I wish for some of these things to have remained the same, to be honest…. Korea and especially Seoul had more character back in the 90’s.

Korean tea….

In grocery stores I saw containers of loose green Korean tea leaves and they were expensive – these containers cost $15 to $40, usually. Their teas are special and they have rituals for drinking them and also, their teas have varied uses. Common teas, which were to be added to hot water, were barley, corn, “nut”, lemon, plum and there were many others as well. I remember the Korean secretaries at my institute calling a certain kind of hot drink “nut” tea. This “nut” tea was really Job’s tears tea, I discovered years later. In Canada Job’s tears is sold as a homeopathic supplement for depression in capsules, I know, but in Korea it’s a highly popular tea. If you bought a box of this “nut” tea the powder turned your hot water milky white or off-white and the taste was slightly nutty and creamy like milk at the same time. Many times you were supposed to feel good about drinking their teas because they had health benefits besides having a good taste. Job’s tears tea was called yulmucha. Tea is “cha”.

You can see the ‘milky’ drink the Job’s tears tea turns into in this picture.

One of the most common hot drinks was their lemon tea. It was so nice, rich and sweet with the citrus rinds in it but I prefered my Canadian tea bags of British-style brewed tea more. I add milk and sugar to my kind of tea. Korean people call western tea “black tea”. I didn’t know when I was there at first and had to learn. This was difficult to get used to because I never thought of my family’s tea as being black. Back home here I ordered tea once from a lady from Shanghai and got Asian green tea because I didn’t order “black tea” from her. Green tea from Northeast Asia and even lemon tea and the other kinds of teas you do not put milk and (sometimes) sugar in are called herbal teas in Canada. I prefer black tea to any herbal teas. I could only find boxes of Lipton brand black tea and a few boxes of Tetley tea to try to have my “black” tea when I lived in Seoul. It was very frustrating and disappointing because these brands are not like King Cole or Red Rose, which were for fussy black tea drinkers in Canada and England. My parents and grandmother would have cried missing their special British-like, black tea and they would have been upset at the lack of ‘proper’ tea in Korea, actually. My father, mother and grandmother drank their tea multiple times every day at home and were very particular about it. My mother had always said that Lipton and Tetley tea were “not real tea” and that Lipton tea is ghastly, so I don’t know what they’d ever have done over there.

This gives you a sense of the consistency of their lemon tea. The quality of yujacha when it’s sold in a jar is evident here.

I bought some corn tea while I lived in Seoul. Some teas were sold in teabags and that is how I got my corn tea. Dried kernels of corn were crushed up in gauze-like bags and you’d set a bag in hot water that had been boiling and leave it in the pot to steep for a while. I had bought a little portable stove and a pot after I’d been living in Korea for 5 months and I made some corn tea before I left Korea. I liked a little sugar mixed in with my corn tea. It was rich-tasting and had a deep, sweet, corn taste when I sipped it. We had nothing like that in Canada. You can buy Korean tea that consists of dried corn kernels to boil and the kernels are huge and dark brown. Their fresh corn over there is not sweet or soft to bite into like it is in Canada. We have North American corn niblets in cans called ‘peaches and cream’ variety and use canned ‘creamed corn’ in dinners and we eat wonderful ‘bread and butter’ corn on the cob and it’s lovely but in Korea their corn on the cob is on the dry side with big kernels. They love it but it’s not very nice to eat. I tried it once and was surprised. In Canada and the US we have many recipes made using corn. We make soups and chowders and casseroles with it, etc. I saw corn tea and sometimes saw corn on what was supposed to be a Korean version of pizza while I was there. Besides eating roasted corn on the cob, drinking corn tea and putting a bit on fake pizza that’s all I saw corn used for.

This shows how Korean corn on the cob has huge kernels and is not enjoyable to eat, in my opinion, like it is in North America.
Here is what big dried kernels for boiling in a pot of water to make tea look like. The tea is a pale, clear, gold colour.

There were vending machines everywhere in Seoul back then selling several kinds of tea. They were lemon, Job’s tears and another few kinds I can’t recall. The machines were everywhere, like the hot instant coffee machines were, and it cost 350 won or 500 won to get a little cup of your chosen hot tea. You could tell it was a powder though that was mixed into hot water. Just the same, I had gotten sick over there and had a few bad sinus infections and these little cups of hot tea helped me a lot.

Musings about Korean markets in the 1990s…

So very different from Canada….

Fresh food was for sale in a lot of areas. On the sidewalks sometimes, and at huge, sprawling vendors’ markets, and at stands outside of corner stores. Prepared ‘street food’ was for sale on the roads in certain areas. Small, blue-coloured Daewoo trucks drove slowly through residential neighborhoods, with a man’s voice on a loudspeaker announcing seafood or Asian pears or even eggs for sale. These were all affordable, or they were even great deals. Like I’ve mentioned in former blogs here, you could see a man selling roasted chestnuts outside of a venue, or come across a truck selling bags of rice snacks next to a subway station or you could go to a stand selling freshly cooked ‘boongobbang’ (waffle-like cake filled with red bean paste shaped like fish) beside a factory.

There were underground malls adjacent to subway tracks and above-ground markets that had hundreds of stores in clusters of buildings, covering a lot of city blocks, that sold just electronics, for example. Many times the buildings that housed these ‘markets’ were a number of stories tall, and there would always be vendors at these same markets who had their wares on the street too. Food courts were large and in malls and big box stores.

Malls were huge, but were in 6, 7 or 8-storey buildings to save precious space and they sold high-end clothes and jewellery. Prices of food and necessities were good at most places but clothing was always high-priced everywhere, no matter what. There were no sizes for tall, big-boned women like me. And when I wanted gloves or a hat, for instance, there were only fancy, expensive choices. In Canada, by contrast, there were elite stores but also there were always more affordable ones that were usually cheap department stores. I could have bought cheap, affordable gloves or scarves or winter hats in a North American department store for a few dollars each, but in Seoul each of these items was over 8 dollars and nowadays the price would be much higher 22 years later. In November of 1997, I needed sneakers or boots and saw some spread out on the pavement, outside, below some apartment buildings, but they were too expensive and the sizes were small. I looked at the men’s ones, since I knew I couldn’t fit into women’s sizes, and they weren’t much bigger than the women’s sizes and also, these men’s boots were not at all rugged or practical. Everything was made to wear while going from a car or subway into an office building – even the men’s winter boots! They reminded me of men’s dress shoes I would see in Canada. I wanted something made for walking long distances or even hiking or at least going through some snow. So I never bought any footwear while I was there and had to make do with one pair of sneakers from home.

An example of street food, which is popular.

One thing that was so interesting was that one time in Seoul, I was at a very large place where people could buy vegetables, and not only did they have carrots for sale, but they were in a space the size of my city block at home. That city block was full of carrots piled there right on the pavement. You walked and walked a long way to pass the mountains of carrots. Then you had an area the size of another city block piled with onions, just piled there for a long way, like the carrots were. A large area the size of my neighbourhood in Canada had all the common types of vegetables on the ground for sale. You walked a very long distance to get your vegetables at this place. I thought that was something I certainly would never have seen in my country and I marvelled at such a set-up. The population was so high they needed to do it that way.

There were grocery stores all around, and I would find them with difficulty, as they were usually in basements of buildings that had other businesses in them, and the signs were all in Korean. I was always struck by how there were no potatoes or milk or bread made with wheat like they’d have in my area of Canada. There were no fridges full of cartons of cow’s milk. Just some little plastic bottles of ‘flavoured’ milk, perhaps strawberry or coffee flavour, and the banana one is very popular with foreigners today. The tea sections had expensive green Korean ‘loose’ teas, and big glass jars of lemon or plum to mix with hot water. Some kinds of tea in bags were ground barley ‘tea’ in bags or ground corn in tea bags. ‘Job’s tears’ tea was popular and was usually a powder mixed in hot water, called ‘nut’ tea. I found some Lipton ‘black’ tea in bags like at home but Canadians in the Atlantic region think Lipton tea is not very good, and we have better brands of ‘black’ tea – my older relatives all would have perished without their King Cole or Red Rose tea! I had no idea that the tea we use in the west is called ‘black’ tea. Now, if I order tea in an Asian establishment I must remember to call it ‘black’ tea or the server won’t know what I’m asking for.

Packaged spicy ramyeon ‘noodle soup’, seafood made into street food, what looks like raw blood sausage, Korean pancakes and fish and vegetables.

In Kyeongju we walked through a sprawling market of mostly produce, where you passed items set out on a the street by many vendors. The picture above with the vegetables for sale reminds me of what I saw there. In the picture above, the prices show how items, some in packages, cost a dollar or two or three each. The prices are in Korean won and I always estimate if something costs 1000 won, it would be around one American dollar. The stock market fluctuates, but that’s how I figure it. Also, I figure ₩1000 is around a Canadian dollar too sometimes, to make it simple.

In Pusan, we were in a gigantic fish market downtown where we came upon anchovies for sale. I never knew what anchovies were because we do not eat them or sell or buy them in my area of Canada. They are little silver-coloured, dried fish. This indoor market had a few large boxes of big anchovies (still small, dried fish) in a section. In that same section beside the big ones, were a few boxes of a size a little smaller, then another few boxes of the slightly smaller next size, and so on, until you saw a few boxes of tiny, tiny anchovies. Maybe there were 8 different sizes. I thought it was amazing to see the sheer amount that was needed, as there were so many of those little, dried fish for sale in that one area of the market.

Speaking of these anchovies, I had soup with different sizes of the tiny fish in it while I lived in Korea. I like fish in general, but I didn’t want to have soup with little fish in it in the morning. One morning I was finishing my nice bowl of Korean soup in the basement of my institute and there had been a bunch of these anchovies in it – they were all in the bottom of my bowl!

I should mention that in one area of the old downtown there were many little jewellery stores, and it was thought of as a ‘jewellery market’. I went in a few of these stores, and it was amazing to me to see many display counters showing pieces with only one particular coloured gem, like a yellow one. Then after looking at many counters of yellow, I saw many counters where all pink gems were showcased, and then blue gems, and so on. Counter upon counter and row upon row of just one colour! Then more! I couldn’t believe the sheer amount of one kind of coloured gem in one spot and there were many other stores with the same set-up in this famous ‘jewellery market’ as well. At home we’d have smaller stores with smaller displays and only a few stores in my city at that.

Seoul in 1997…Chogyesa, Odusan

Autumn ginkgo leaves…these trees had nuts hanging on them too! The nuts were little round hanging balls. Ginkgo trees were everywhere! Many mountains were covered in gingko yellow in October and those mountains had patches of bright red Japanese maples on them also.

Chogyesa Temple…

Five blocks southeast of the North Gate was a temple called Chogyesa. It was considered to be the main Buddhist temple in all of Korea. And the richest one. Even though it was the richest one, it wasn’t as pretty as bright-coloured Bongeunsa and frankly, it wasn’t as nice-looking as the other temples in the country were. But it had a unique character and had a number of very special qualities of its own. And being located in the old downtown near the palaces and next to a neighborhood known for antique shops and Korean tea-drinking added to its authentic atmosphere.

I found Chogyesa by myself one day in December of 1997 and I found that it was so interesting. Chogyesa was right in the middle of the metropolis, with city buildings and streets close beside it. A wonderful thing about this temple was that monks who lived there were often chanting and hitting rhythmic blocks and this was hear knowd over speakers inside the grounds as you walked around and it could be heard outside of the temple too. There were speakers on buildings out at the sidewalk and people walking by on the street could hear the chanting and block-playing. A colony of monks lived at the temple and you could see one of them sometimes. Chogyesa had a long history that I could feel while I looked at the wooden buildings that really seemed to be old and weathered. This was good because all of Seoul’s Royal Palaces and all of the temples in Korea have been rebuilt in recent years to represent all of their original buildings that were destroyed by fire or by the Japanese hundreds of years ago. Therefore, some of these traditional attractions can look fake if their most recent paint job doesn’t look good.

The 500-year old pine tree that was still growing there in 1997 added to the historical aura of the temple along with the various paintings on the prayer buildings. Chogyesa’s wooden buildings had very elaborate golden statues of the Buddha in them but since I was a visitor and a “foreigner”, I didn’t want to be forward and interrupt anyone’s worship time by entering any structures to take pictures. I heard from the other teachers and read tourist information saying that you should ask permission to take pictures in Korea. Most Korean temples have Temple Stay options for visitors who want to learn about Buddhist traditions from real monks and stay overnight on the grounds for a few days. Those tourists can easily see the inside of prayer buildings, but things were different over twenty years ago.

Unfortunately, Chogyesa has now been completely changed and has garish gold-coloured figures scattered throughout it, like most Korean temples have in them nowadays. When I look at current videos of it I feel sad at the loss of the statue of the lion I liked so much(pictured below) and the paintings of km in Inn birds I saw there in the late 90’s.

The sun wasn’t out so my pictures are dark. I believe the 5-storey building on the left was where the monks lived.
Since I am an artist I loved the fine art on these structures. There were many, many lanterns bought for “good luck” strung up here.
I loved this lion statue…
The lower paintings were telling of Buddha’s inspiration, travels and hardships and above them were gorgeous paintings of birds(pheasants, quail and other fowl) that went all of the way around this building. You can see there are Korean names written on the papers attached to these lanterns.
This was a 500-year old pine tree and an information board about it and a traditional stand to commemorate it..

Well, I had never imagined what happened next! After I took a picture of this special pine tree, one of the Korean monks appeared and spoke to me! He was so kind and was smiling. He asked if I wanted him to take a picture of me in front of the pine tree. Of course, in my utmost happiness and shock I said yes. After he took the picture I mustered the courage to dare to ask if I could take a picture of HIM in front of it. And he smiled and agreed. I asked him “Do you live here?…” and he said yes, he did live there. And then he had to move on. I can still feel the thrill I had.

This is the picture the monk took. I remember it was cold that day.
And here is the precious picture I was allowed to take of him. Korean monks wear a grey suit. Each Asian country has a different coloured suit. Usually we see Buddhist monks in Thailand or Tibet, for example, wearing bright orange.

Exploring with Sang-Hyun…

After my solo visit to Chogyesa, Sang Hyun and I went there on one of our sight-seeing days together. The weather was better that day then when I had gone alone so the pictures were brighter from the sunshine. I bought a few souvenirs too. This made my memories of that day even better than they would have been without the souvenirs and without Sang Hyun. You see, he explained about my Buddhist purse that I bought, and took me to a Korean Tea House nearby.

The bright pink Buddhist purse was only a few inches wide. I think I only paid 2 or 3 dollars for it.

That Buddhist purse had a tiny Buddhist Bible inside. You can see how small it is. If you open it, it really has Korean writing, very tiny, inside on the small pages! Sang Hyun put a few coins inside the purse for me. He said this is for ‘good luck’. One of the coins above is ₩500 (500 Won) and I of course loved those particular coins because of the flying crane pictured on them. They were like 50 cents. It’s funny, someone could look at my 3 dollar purse and say, well, so what?, but it has a lot of meaning for me.

We also went to Kyeongbokkung that day and stopped at his workplace that was across the street from the palace.

I took this picture at the palace that day.
I can remember going to Chogyesa Temple with Sang Hyun that day in January 1998. This is the back entrance.

I didn’t fully realise it that day, but Sang Hyun did me an extra favour by bringing me in a Korean Tea House. Going to a tea house in that neighbourhood near the temple is a tourist attraction now. There are rituals to follow and it was complicated, unbelievably. I do remember we sat together and had a cup of green tea. The cups are very small and you sip it slowly.

This was in the tea house area.


A few times it was really unbelievable that Korean babies could see I looked different. I would be on a crowded subway car and a woman would be holding an infant a few months old and that baby would be crying and crying. The infant was inconsolable. When the baby saw me he stopped crying abruptly and stared at me! This happened more than once. I couldn’t believe it. An infant! The babies who did this stared at me and couldn’t take their eyes away from me! Staring and staring and not crying anymore. Everyone on the train noticed, of course. And then THEY stared! The people who told me I shouldn’t go to Korea and said I’d be the only person like me on the subway car had certainly been right. I was the only person who looked like me on the whole train.

Everyone has a certain traditional dress and you see many dress shops selling the Hanbok clothes.

This of course made me more painfully aware that I was very different and alone and when it got to me that I missed Canada, I was feeling an alienation that is hard to describe. It’s a wonder I could do what I did, when I look back at it all. Even though I had wonderful Korean friends and loved it I missed reading English or seeing it most of all. There was hardly any English anywhere ever, at all. It gets to you that no one understands how you feel about anything over and over again. I started crying at a park with Sang Hyun once because I saw a few Korean family members laughing and enjoying that park in front of me. He was not wanting me to cry, and didn’t know what to do, but I couldn’t help it. By the end of it I missed hearing French too, I remember, as I had studied French for 12 years of my life and my city in Canada was 50% French. Funny, I get annoyed with French while I am in Canada, but everything was so absolutely different and so totally foreign when I lived in Seoul that missing Canada nagged at me more and more once the culture shock had subsided. I did a lot to experience Korea in my five and a half months there though. I would never have chosen to not experience it. There were 2 older foreign English-speaking men I met who lived in apartments on their own and did a few classes for Mr. Kim here and there. They loved Korea and had chosen to permanently live there long-term. One gave himself a Korean name and the other one was from South Africa. I understand those men, but my husband was not legally allowed to work there because his education was different than mine, so I decided to live back in Canada later instead of getting my husband to live there with me. I did strongly consider living there long-term with my husband back then.

Every week while I lived there on Sunday night, I’d go downstairs and over to the next lot where the Han Shin Apartments were to call my husband and then my mother. There was a payphone to use outside. I used a phone card or coins. It was Sunday morning in Atlantic Canada when I called them. I always asked my husband how our 2 cats were. I wrote letters to people back home and their letters took 2 to 4 weeks to arrive. I don’t know how any mail got anywhere, period, as everything was written in English.

I put this here to break up my text again. Sang Hyun took this photo when we went to Cheonggyesan Mountain in October. I had to buy this Gag sweatshirt because I needed something warmer than what I had brought with me. I wouldn’t have chosen it but it’s all I could find in their high-end stores that fit me.

Other Establishments…

Korean people explained that there were many places called Public Bathhouses that you could go into and have a bath or take a sauna. They described the inside and the towels and soap and possible rooms to go in and what everybody did in them. They said the Bathhouses were common and very popular. I would have loved to go and try it but never got a chance. Many, many times a place had a sign with a picture of rising ‘steam’ on it and I think this meant it was one of these baths. Also, they explained there were Places of Rest, where you would go in and pay to take a nap. They said there was even one of these places behind my institute. I had heard that they did this in Japan but didn’t know they did it in Korea too. Seeing everyone asleep on the subway made me think it was a good idea. By the end of it, I was sleeping on the subway too in the afternoons travelling to Aju from Bucheon.

My jewellery box from the ministers at Sejong Institute. On the mother-of-pearl there seems to be a horse, perhaps?
It’s not a common symbol so I don’t know.
It opens and has little compartments. It’s around 4 inches high.


One day Sang Hyun had a special treat in store for me. We got in his little white car and drove and drove. It was a Sunday, I remember. We went north and to the west of Seoul. On and on. And on. We came to a satellite city called Goyang-shi and stopped there and visited someone he knew in one of the apartment buildings there. Then we went further west. We were going to an observatory where you can view North Korea! There is Panmunjom, and it is mentioned and shown on the American news a lot. If you go, it is formal and you may be filmed and no jeans are allowed to be worn. I was wearing my jeans that day. Odusan Observatory is one of several places other than Panmunjom along the North-South border to view North Korea that is never mentioned to westerners.

Look at it! It had a viewing area, a museum, commemorative statues and places to honour estranged relatives.

My pictures of the land of North Korea were faded so I didn’t include any here. But it was interesting what I saw there. Korean people were very somber and serious. They were standing outside and inside, staring sadly towards the North. It was really something. There are families who have been separated since the war and cannot see eachother. A few times both countries (it depends on North Korea) have agreed to let some families meet one more time and they are for example, a 74 year-old son who hasn’t seen his 95 year-old mother for almost 70 years! Then they have to say goodbye again forever. It is extremely sad.

Here is the place where food and flowers are put on the altar to honour relatives, dead or living. Here, people were bowing and looking out towards the North so longingly.
There were many black and grey brick traditional ‘smoke-signal’ stacks outside.
It was common in Korea to see these gazebos. There were sights like this at Odusan, including statues but no explanations to read about them.

Floral and Fauna…

I did learn a little about what was different in Korea about insects and flowers. In my province in Canada, we suffer with aggressive mosquitoes for over 4 months. By September, there aren’t as many as in summertime and in October there are a few that you don’t notice bothering you and then there are none until the end of May in the coming year. Over there, the mosquitoes were smaller than ours and their bites were smaller too. There were a few inside even in November and December but they seemed ‘stunned’ to me, as they weren’t ferocious like mosquitoes back home. On the subject of flowers, you wouldn’t expect to see any in such a crowded city, but it was common to see real red roses that had been planted along the sidewalks. I swear I even saw a red rose growing in such a way on December first! Where I’m from, gardeners pray their rose bushes will live and most of them do not make it through the winter. Small, tame mosquitoes and red roses in the streets…..seemed pretty good to me!


Chuseok and Solnal are a time to send good wishes and greetings with a card. This would be a Chuseok greeting given to a loved one. See the gachi?

Not long after I had arrived in Seoul, people told me that it would soon be Chuseok. It’s a week-long national, traditional holiday in October where family members make fancy, beautiful food offerings to their ancestors and relatives who have passed away. There are certain rituals they do that last for 3 days. They dress in their unique (families have their own official colours and patterns, like Scottish tartans) satin-like Hanbeok outfits. This was all done again for a week in January when it was called Solnal. Sometimes you hear of traffic jams in China because of people all driving to their hometowns at the same time for Chinese New Year. This exodus also happens in Korea. It goes on twice a year: once during October for Chuseok, and once sometime in January for Solnal. Some westerners think of the October holiday as Korean Thanksgiving and Solnal as Korean New Year. We teachers had a week off for each holiday. Speaking of holidays, I noticed that they had many, many holidays in Korea because they had such an extremely long history. It was mind-boggling. There was Kids’ Day, Grandparents’ Day, and every kind of ‘Day’ you can imagine, as well as numerous historical days to mark independence from Japan, China or Mongolia. Some holidays remembered battles, or kings and queens, or were special religious days for Buddhists or Christians. One time I looked at one of their calendars and the whole thing was peppered on every page with holidays.

One of the reasons males seem to be preferred over females in a number of ways is because during Chuseok and Solnal, the oldest son must perform the ceremonies at home when they bow to their ancestors and make their offerings. Sail talked about this and said it was stressful and a lot of pressure for him because his father, who would have done a lot of this, had passed away a few years before. He told me it was very traumatic for him to lose his father and see him die of stomach cancer. On an off note, stomach cancer was the leading cause of death in Korea at the time, because of the acid and spice from all the kimchi people eat. The second leading cause of death was a car accident. In Canada, our leading causes of death were heart disease first and the second was cancer in general, I believe, at the time.

The ceremonies they perform at these times are strongly connected to Buddhism, I always thought. At one point in the past they all followed Buddhism or a Shamanistic religion. Ancestors are not supposed to be gone forever and are sleeping or have been reincarnated. Sang Hyun told me his parents who lived on the coast to the south of Seoul were still following Buddhism but he was “no religion” himself. In many of the little restaurants I went in there was a dried fish hanging above a main doorway to ward off bad luck. Buddhists did this. Sang Hyun had a dried fish above one of his doorways in his apartment. He said his mother gave it to him and insisted he put it there, even if he wasn’t going to practice Buddhism. Most Koreans had Buddhist beads or symbols hanging from their rear-view mirror in their cars to protect them from being hurt in an accident, they all told me.

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