Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure #8: Lunar New Year and Treat Yo Self 2015

Last Thursday was the Lunar New Year in Asia (also called the Chinese New Year). Well, technically, it was the Lunar New Year everywhere, but it’s mostly celebrated in Asia. We had three days off from work, which only happens twice a year – in the fall for Chuseok (which is like Korean Thanksgiving) and in the winter for Seollal (the Korean name for the Lunar New Year). We wanted to take advantage of the days off and take a short trip, but even several months ago plane tickets to anywhere during the holiday were prohibitively expensive. We settled for spending a few days in Seoul just to get away from home and relax a bit.

You’d think the Lunar New Year would mean lots of special cultural events in Seoul, but in fact, Korean holidays are kind of lame (in my humble opinion). Everyone travels to their family homes where they make and eat an elaborate traditional meal with special foods like ddeokguk, a soup with disk-shaped rice dumplings in it.They also perform bunch of ceremonies to honor their ancestors and many people will dress in hanbok, traditional Korean clothing. When I asked my Korean coworkers about the holiday they always just complain that it’s so much work.

hanbok

Little boy in hanbok. Flickr creative commons image by petergarnhum

The New Year is associated with getting older. Koreans count their age differently than the rest of the world does. Everyone born in the same year is the same age and rather than getting older on your birthday, everyone gets older together on New Year’s Day. For some reason the ddeokguk is associated with getting older and traditionally, you have aged a year after you eat the ddeokguk on New Year’s Day.

[Koreans also count the time a child is in the womb as the first year of life, so when a baby is born it is already 1 year old. So, although I am 27 years old, when I give my age to a Korean I say I am 29 – one extra year for the year I was in utero and one extra year because I was born in 1987 and everyone born in 1987 just turned 29 regardless of when in the year their birthday falls. Since I was born in December this means that if I had lived in Korea when I was born, I would have turned 2 years old when I was only 1 month old by the rest of the world’s standards.]

Because more than half of Seoul’s population is not from Seoul, the city empties out for the holiday, so it was much quieter than usual there. We looked  to see if there were any special events we could attend, but many cultural attractions are actually closed for the holiday and the ones that were open (the palaces and folk village) were places we’ve already been. We’ve learned that the biggest Korean holidays are family affairs that are celebrated privately, so unless you have an invitation to join a family for their celebration, there isn’t that much to participate in.

The air pollution in Seoul during our trip was off-the-charts high (300 + is considered “hazardous” and it was in the 900s) so being out and about wasn’t particularly pleasant since it was too hazy to see anything or to take any decent pictures, but we were happy to have a low-key time just enjoying being away from home and not having to cook or clean or do other normal life activities for a few days.

We dubbed our trip to Seoul “Treat Yo Self 2015” which is a reference to Parks and Recreation, one of our favorite shows. (If you don’t watch Parks and Rec, stop reading this now and go catch up). In the show two of the characters are really into fancy, luxury items and experiences and once a year they do a “Treat Yo Self” day where they indulge all their extravagant wishes. We decided to do the same. I live tweeted/Instagrammed the experience for those who follow me there.

We didn’t have any truly extravagant wishes, but we did have a few treats in mind:

1. Stay at a hotel with a bathtub (we normally go the hostel route to save money and even if you get a private room those generally have shared showers). Take all the bubble baths.

bubble bath

2. Go to Taco Bell. I know you’re judging me right now, but I also know you are secretly jealous. It’s amazing the things that seem like a treat when you’ve gone without them for 19 months.

taco bell

3. Get pies from Tartine. This is a little pie/tart shop in Itaewon, sort of the expat center of Seoul. It is the only place in Korea I have found pie that is proper pie. And they have a ton of flavors. Mmmmmm.

Pie

We had butterscotch and lemon meringue.

 

4. Visit the English bookstore. Since both of us are huge readers, visiting an all-English bookstore is heavenly. What the Book (also in Itaewon) has a big selection of both used and new books. It’s a little pricey since everything has to be imported, but they do offer free shipping within Korea if you order online.

Bookstore

Jonathan got Margaret Atwood’s book Oryx and Crake. I’m on a no-buy because I have 17 unread books on my kindle right now. (Oops).

5. Butterbeer and Chili fries. We found a delightful English pub with the most enchanting menu of all-time. Harry Potter inspired Butter beer (similar to what you can get at HP world except this one was alcoholic), a range of different hot dogs, and fries covered in chili and beef and bacon and cheese and mayo and grilled kimchi on the side (because this is still Korea). Yes, that was heart attack waiting to happen, but you know what…Treat yo self.

Butter beer

chili fries

6. Shopping. I went into this trip prepared to do some shopping, but it ended up being one of those weird times when I was planning to buy all the things, but couldn’t find anything I wanted. I felt a little cheated – after all, I held up my end of the bargain, going to stores with money – and the stores let me down. (I know, I know, first world problems).

Myeongdong

The Myeongdong central shopping area in Seoul. So many stores and I couldn’t find a thing to buy.

In spite of our lack of unique cultural experiences, we are calling “Treat Yo Self 2015” a success and I hope it’s a tradition we keep up every now and again.

All joking aside, self care is really important and while that doesn’t have to mean doing anything expensive or extravagant, it’s important to tend to our souls by building in time to rest, relax, and do the things that rejuvenate us, whether it’s bubble baths or window shopping or going to a baseball game. You can’t pour out to others if you are completely empty yourself.

I had one more really big adventure in Seoul, but you’ll have to check back next week to hear about it!

If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few – no pressure. If you missed last week’s adventure you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.

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23 comments

  1. If I ever get married, you and Jonathan are my goal. #relationshipsgoals.

    I want to eat chilifries, drink butter beer, take bubble baths, eat pies and travel with my spouse.

    I support this

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  2. Very educational post from you again, actually. I didn’t know about the Korean age-thing! I personally think that’s weird, but hey, it’s their culture and tradition.

    Question: Are you into Korean soap shows? I know they’re big on that.

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    1. Isn’t it interesting. Mostly I think it’s strange just because it’s really confusing when trying to engage with the rest of the world. I think part of the reason is because age is such a big thing here with older people being honored and certain social duties being performed by older or younger people that it’s easier if they just sort of go by year. And K-dramas re super popular, but no I haven’t gotten into any of them. 🙂

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    1. It’s one of my all time favorites. 🙂 I’m loving your Ireland adventures. I did a study abroad in England while I was in college and spent a bit of time in Scotland as well (both of which I loved) but never made it to Ireland. While there are a million places on my “Have to go there,” Ireland is quite high. We actually have some friends we met here in Korea who are Irish and have moved back to Dublin now so we’ve talked about trying to visit them at some point in the future. We’re always happy to find an extra excuse to go somewhere.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That sounds like a fabulous beginning of a fun yearly tradition!
    The name of the bookstore made me laugh out loud
    the beauty & care that went into the presentation of the pies is delightful
    Thanks for sharing your adventure

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    1. Haha. Yes, I’m not sure what prompted the bookstore’s name but it is kind of funny. I also thought the pies were gorgeous. I think that saying, “You eat with your eyes first” is totally true. So glad you enjoyed this. Thank you for reading. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I just started following you last week so I’ve been poking around on your site (hope you don’t mind) and I love your writing voice. Some people just have that ability to keep readers engaged no matter the topic. I saw that your first adventure was starting a book. Congrats on that! It is a big step. I’m one of those who keeps saying I’ve got a book in me, but have yet to get a word of it on paper. I tell myself it’s because of the kids (I have two under five), but I’m lying. It’s because of fear – fear that I won’t be successful or that I’ll find out I am actually not very good at it. I like this adventure thing, and I may even try to take a break from wiping noses and pouring Cheerios to have a few of my own this year. If I do, I’ll jump in on the link up. And if one of those adventures is sitting down at my computer and writing the introduction to my someday book, I’ll definitely let you know!

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    1. Of course I don’t mind, Lisa. I am completely flattered. 🙂 I am totally with you on the fear thing. The book has been slow-going for that exact reason. It was a big step for me to get started, but so far I have the intro and one chapter. 🙂 I sort of know what I want to say, but actually putting the words down is so intimidating and sometimes feels overwhelming/impossible. But I also recognize that there is never going to be a time in my life when I really have the time/energy/confidence to write it. I keep telling myself that maybe I will fail. Maybe it won’t be good or it will never be published. But won’t that still be more satisfying than spending my whole life waiting for the right time to do it?
      I really hope you are able to find/make time to pursue your project, though I certainly sympathize with the demands on you as a mother of young kids. Something that’s helped me is carving out a writing time and making myself stick to it. If I wait until I “feel” like writing or have extra time for writing, it never happens. It’s hard work and I can always think of something that seems more important or fun. But if I say, “Ok, My writing time is the 30 minutes right after dinner. The dishes and everything else can wait for 30 minutes.” And then I sit down and literally set a timer. And that really helps because it’s a way of me saying, “Hey, this writing is important, too. It deserves my time the same way cooking and cleaning and grocery shopping and my job do.” Does that make sense?

      I would love to hear about any adventures you are having and I really hope you get started on the book sooner rather than later! Thanks so much for reading. Your words really encouraged me today.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree with you. Sometimes its best to just relax and do little things to keep us happy. and the korean birthday behaviors is so unique. wow.

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  6. Fun! I’m glad you were able to have a relaxing time despite the pollution — that sounds horrible! I empathize with wanting to buy all the things and then not finding ananything to buy, especially annoying because it’s not like that’s something I can usually do so it’s disappointing to not even able to find all the things let alone buy them.

    That is so interesting about how they count age! I’d be 29 there then, too. Is there any acknowledgement of birthdays?

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    1. Yes, they still celebrate their birthdays like we do – cake and presents and birthday parties – they just don’t get older on that day. The most bizarre thing about it is the way it affects the ages of kids in school. Grades are done by age, similar to the US, but here an 11 year old can actually be anywhere between 9 and 11. You could have two children – one born on January 1, 2005 and one born on December 31st 2005 and they are both considered 11 right now, even though according to the rest of the world one has just turned 10 and the other is only barely 9. So as much variation as there already is in the height/growth rate of kids in elementary school it’s especially dramatic here. I had a sixth grade class this year with a boy who stood a full head taller than me (I’m 5’3″) and another boy who didn’t even come up to my shoulder.

      This also means that when kids here start Kindergarten they are only 3 or 4 years old by the rest of the world’s standards. They are adorable, but it makes me sad to see these little babies in school all day.

      One interesting thing is that since I’ve been telling people I was two years older than I really am for a while now, it made me freak out less about my actual age. I’m now used to thinking of myself as being almost 30, so when I remember that I’m actually 27 it feels so young, haha. Whereas before I freaked out at every birthday because I felt like I was getting too old to still be so clueless about life. 🙂

      Like

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