Korean New Year (설날 / Seollal) @ Namsan Hanok Village (남산골 한옥마을)

Korean New Year is traditionally a really important day in the Korean Lunar calendar, with most people spending the 3 day celebration with their family. I’ve experienced a couple of Korean New Year’s over the past few years, and almost everything in the city is closed, but there is still a lot for you to do if you’re in Seoul on Korean New Year.

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One of the best ways to spend Seollal is to get involved with the many traditional celebrations happening around the city. One of the best places to get a hands-on experience of the traditional aspects of Korean New Year is at Namsangol Hanok Village (남산골 한옥마을).

Namsangol Hanok Village is located conveniently right outside Chungmuro subway station (line 4 & 3) and at the base of Namsan Mountain.

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Entry to the celebrations is free, and while you’re there you can learn about, and participate in a lot of different cultural activities such as  Charye (a memorial ritual for ancestors) and the making and slicing Garatteok (a type of rice cake).

You can dress up in traditional clothing called a Hanbok, try learning and singing  some folk songs or some dancing, as well as playing traditional games and musical instruments. There are also lots of performances on a big stage to enjoy.

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Some of the traditional games I really enjoyed playing at the Namsnangol Hanok Village were:

Yutnori – a game where you use wooden sticks to play.
Jegichagi – you make an object using a small metal ring, then wrap it with strips of paper, then kick it in the air similar to footbag.
Neoltwiggi – a see saw that you and another player stands on each end and take turns to jump high in the air (a lot harder to get the timing than it looks)

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There is such a nice and festive atmosphere at Namsangol Hanok Village during Seollal, it’s a great way to see the beautiful buildings and gardens of the Hanok Village as well as experiencing some traditional culture, for free – from there you can also hike up Namsan for a great view of Seoul!

Gangneung Kimchi Making (김치)

A few weeks ago while eating delicious Sundubu Jiggae at the 400년집 초당순두부 (400 Years House Cho-dang Soft Tofu) in Gangneung, I had the opportunity to learn how to make traditional style Korean kimchi!

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Kimchi is Korea’s traditional side dish – if you’ve ever been to Korea, or even to a Korean restaurant you’ll know that it is eaten in, and with, almost everything! Kimchi stew (jiggae), Kimchi Pajeon (pancake) etc, as well as by itself as a tasty side dish.

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Kimchi is made by fermenting different vegetables and adding seasonings – there are many different varieties depending on the time of year, and location. For example in coastal areas of Korea, such as Hamgyeong-Do, sometimes oysters or fish are used to season the kimchi and in inland areas, such as Chungcheong-Do, they have to rely on using more salts to give the kimchi its flavor. IMGP8021

Napa kimchi is the most common cabbage kimchi, it is the one which I learned to make in Gangneung recently. Usually kimchi is made in each home, and the recipe varies slightly depending on the family – Ask any of my friends and they will tell you that their mother has the best recipe!

The basic ingredients are cabbage, water, salt, garlic, green onion and red pepper. The ingredidents are all prepared then fermented in special kimchi pots. You can easily find many recipes online – here is an example from a great Korean cook I met a few years ago : http://www.maangchi.com/recipe/easy-kimchi

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I had a great time learning the traditional way of preparing kimchi in Gangneung, and even sampled some while preparing, it tastes great (a bit spicy) even before fermenting! As well as being really tasty and great accompaniment to all meals, kimchi is also a super food! So eat it often for great health benefits!

Haenyo (해녀) / Jeju Women Divers

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The women divers of Jejudo are so fascinating, as is the story of how they came to be.
Jeju Island is located off the bottom of Korea and is well known for its Volcanic rocks, Hallabong fruits and fresh seafoods.
While i was in Jeju Island, i found out that up until the 19th century, the men of Jejudo caught seafood, but as taxes were increased it became unprofitable for them to continue, so the women of Jejudo who did not have to pay taxes took over the duty of diving for abalone, octopus and other seafoods. Exporting of the seafood to Japan increased which resulted in the women making quite decent money and being able to afford to send their children to big cities for university. But because now the next generation of women have college educations, they are turning to other career choices which results in there being less and less women divers left.

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Amazingly the divers start at very young ages and continue the job up until they are in their late 60’s! what is even more incredible is that the women do not use any oxygen tanks.Around Jeju island you can witness for yourself the skilful women divers at work and be blow away by their ability. You can also buy fresh abalone and sea creatures from them directly right after they’ve been caught. You will never get to eat seafood any fresher than that! it was so delicious (especially with some Hallasan Soju, one of Jeju’s own soju brands)

To see the women divers in action at the base of Songsanilchulbong (Sunrise Peak), check out my video below:

Hangul (한글) & Hangul Day

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Hangul:
Hangul is the Korean alphabet, consisting of 24 characters (originally 28), invented around 1446 by King Sejong the Great. It was invented because the original Hanja system that Koreans were using at the time, which was built off of Chinese characters, was not familiar with common people, and only well known by the educated and elite members of society.
King Sejong was a big believer in teaching and learning for everybody, so he created a simple and effective language character system so that all people could read, write and express themselves effectively.

Hangul is very simple to learn, I found a website which has 6 steps to learning Hangul, check it out – http://www.koreanwikiproject.com/wiki/index.php?title=Learn_hangeul

Hangul Day:
October 9th is officially Hangul Day, and is a national public holiday in Korea to celebrate the proclamation and invention of Hangul by King Sejong and his ingenuity.

해피 한글 데이!

hangul(diagram source: http://thepolyglotexperience.blogspot.com.au/)