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As I'm sure many of you know, Valentine's Day took place on Monday this week. While it's true that the observance of Valentine's Day (밸런타인데이) is different in Korea than it is in most of North American and Western Europe it's not really a subject that I considered writing about. I did, however, receive chocolate from a few of my female students today and told them that I would reciprocate on White Day.

Instead, there is another holiday this week that I am looking forward to with much more interest: Jeongwol Daeboreum (정월 대보름), which is a festival to celebrate the first full moon in the lunar year. I've written about Daeboreum in the past - here and here - and asked a few of my students what they had planned for the day. Despite having a few anonymous commenters on my blog claim that Korean traditional customs are 'all dead' it seems the news hasn't filtered through to Uijeongbu just yet. While the majority of my students weren't planning to do anything special for Daeboreum a few said their parents had recently bought a lot of nuts in relation to the holiday.

Walnuts (호두) and peanuts (땅콩) for sale in downtown Uijeongbu

Go back a few centuries and fresh fruits and vegetables were hard to come by during the winter months; as a result, nuts were consumed as a healthy alternative. What I found particularly interesting though was the news that several of my students intended to participate in a Daljip Taeugi (달집태우기) ceremony. This event is one of the more visible aspects of Daeboreum and involves assembling a tower of pine branches or straw bundles that is used to make a bonfire when night falls.

The recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease (구제역) in Korea has kept many people from traveling to the countryside if it can be avoided and a couple of my students were disappointed that their family would not be doing daljip taeugi this year. There are places in Seoul that will hold the daljip taeugi ceremony but I'm not sure if any of my students will attend. One girl told me that her parents always help her build a daljip tower in the parking lot of their apartment building, with one layer added to the tower each year as she grows older. Another student at our academy mentioned that he will probably build a daljip this year but doesn't know where it will take place.

There are other foods associated with Daeboreum in addition to nuts. You can see some of the foods and their Korean names here, which is a photo taken from the bottom of this page. One food in particular that is consumed on Daeboreum is 'medicinal rice' -- also known as yakbap (약밥) and yakshik (약식). Choe Sang-su mentions this food in Annual Customs of Korea and begins the entry with:

To make this food [yangbap], first steam glutinous rice, and mix with such fruits as dates, chestnuts, and pine-nuts; then add wine, sugar, and soy sauce, and steam it again. The dish is also called yagsig (sic), meaning the same thing, and is much appreciated by the people. This dish may have started during the Silla period since there is an article suggestive of this entitled "Shoot the harp box" in the first volume of the Samgug-yusa (sic) [...]

Yakshik (약식). Photo taken from here. Includes cooking directions.

I checked my copy of the Samguk Yusa (삼국 여사; 三國遺事) and the story does appear in Book One as Story 26. It takes place during the reign of King Soji (479–500) of the Silla Dynasty (57 BCE – 935 AD). A version of the story has been posted to Korea4expats, though for some reason their account features a different king, different dates, and a slightly different set of events. However, their version is more succinct so I will include it below:

Legend has it that Yaksik is eaten in memory of the crow that saved the life of King Yuri (24-57) from the Silla Kingdom. King Yuri was eating ‘alfresco’ in his garden on the day of the first full moon, when a passing crow dropped a’letter’ at his feet. On the outside was written, “If opened, two shall die. If not opened, one will die.” The puzzled king as[ked] some of his advisors for an explanation and was given the following interpretation, “The ‘one’ refers to your majesty, while the ‘two’ are other people.” So the King opened the letter and read the message it contained, “Shoot an arrow into the harp case.” He hurried back to the palace and did so. As he looked into the case, he found his Queen and a monk, dead in each other’s embrace. It appears, that the Queen had fallen in love with the monk and the two had been planning to murder her husband, the King, that very night. To repay the the crow, the King proclaimed the 15th, the day of the first full moon, the day on which his life was saved, as Crow Thanksgiving Day.

In gratitude, a rite to the crow was held with an offering of black rice, the color of the crow. During the Goryeo period, black rice was replaced with sweetened rice made with honey, dates and chestnuts. The common people usually replace the expensive yaksik with the more affordable five-grain dish, ogokbap.

There's a bit more involved with the Daeboreum celebrations, but I think I'll save that for another time.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 15th, 2011 01:34 pm (UTC)
I'll be at work for most of the day so I don't have anything special planned.

You're still glad even though I didn't write about the use of turtle statues as memorial tablet bases? ;)
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 17th, 2011 03:49 am (UTC)
I wouldn't recommend holding your breath. Someone else asked me to write about a different type of funerary statue last year and I still haven't gotten around to it! ;)
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 23rd, 2011 03:39 pm (UTC)
I'll make sure I keep it my list of 'things to write about one day' then. ;)
Feb. 17th, 2011 03:26 am (UTC)
Amanda Here
I usually ask Good Man about your posts. He, too, claims "nobody does it anymore," but then when I push he admits some people do.

Of course, Good Man also didn't know why the female wedding goose had a ribbon on her beak or why the 60th birthday party was such a big deal in Korea. Sometimes I think he's not Korean.
Feb. 17th, 2011 03:48 am (UTC)
Re: Amanda Here
Well, if someone with a name (Good Man, or anyone who posts a name with their comment) says that an event doesn't happen anymore I'm willing to listen. What I was referring to in my entry are the completely anonymous posters - typically with an ISP in Seoul - who drop by to say people don't do x anymore, and when I tell them that my students, coworkers, a friend, or whomever still does x their response is, "Oh, they're lying to you".

At what point should I consider seeking a job with the Cultural Heritage Administration in Korea? ;)
Feb. 17th, 2011 12:11 pm (UTC)
Re: Amanda Here
"Oh, they're lying to you." So, not only are you stupid for researching these traditions, Paul, but you're also so stupid you don't even know that your friends, coworkers are students are lying to your face on a daily basis. Ha ha!

I wonder if the anons are expats who are pissed that you have a clue?

And I think you could apply for that job NOW.
Feb. 18th, 2011 05:49 am (UTC)
Re: Amanda Here
Apparently I'm not cynical enough to write about my experience in Korea. Ha!

They very well could be expats who are upset by an alternative depiction of the country. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to hear that an expat working in 강남 whose only Korean friends are well-off 20-somethings has a different experience than I do. The problem is in assuming that one of us has to be right and the other wrong. (Especially if I only want to claim that a tradition exists; not that it's widespread.)

First I have to figure out what kind of position I should look for with the CHA. English-language liaison? Something else? Hmmm.
Feb. 17th, 2011 12:18 pm (UTC)
A Request from Amanda
By the way, if you ever come across a chapter about tradtional units of measurement or something like that, I'd love to know about it. Last night I read "5리" as a unit of measurement. When I asked Good Man he said "오리 is duck." ㅋㅋ Once we cleared the 오/다섯 issue he said it was a measurement (which I'd figured out). But it wasn't in my dictionary.

I know a 근 is about what you can hold in your cupped hands. Now I need to go find 리...
Feb. 18th, 2011 05:32 am (UTC)
Re: A Request from Amanda
I know how much a 리 is (hooray for me!) so I can make an entry about that and a couple of other measurements some time tonight or tomorrow. (평 is another one that gets used often enough that I'll make sure I include.)

I don't know that I've encountered 근 before. Hmmm. I might need to take a stroll through the Uijeongbu Market to see if it crops up anyway.

The confusion between 오리 and 5리 has me cracking up. Awesome! ㅋㅋ
Feb. 26th, 2011 05:44 pm (UTC)
How much of these anonymous tradition-deniers do you figure are involved in the sort of cultural cringe still evident throughout much of Asia? Is this more eagerness to be seen as modern, Western, and perhaps Christian?

I've had traditionally-uneducated Chinese tell me to my face that certain religious and cultural customs are practiced "only by peasants", though they ought to suspect I know very well that there is a resurgence of such things in the cities now. Also reminds me of relatives who insisted on showing me all the boring tall towers in the city center of Nanning, though I had rather have gone to the Zhuang minority college library... Not sure what accounts for this attempt at PR, but it's lost on me, frankly.
Feb. 28th, 2011 06:05 pm (UTC)
As these comments come from anonymous visitors it's impossible to know for sure, but my impression is that they come from foreigners (more precisely, English teachers) in Korea or who ones used to live here. I don't get comments like that very often, but when I do it seems like the person involved cannot believe that someone would hold a different view of Korea from their own -- one that involves traditional customs, politeness from old people, etc.

I can see how the people leaving those comments would disagree though. If they live in an urban metropolis, don't speak any Korean, and hang out with younger Koreans (in the 20s) their views of Korean culture will primarily come from friends with a decent level of English who are probably striving to be seen as 'hip' and 'modern' by their foreign friend.

Meanwhile, I live in a city of 400,000 next to the countryside, have friends and acquaintances in their 40s-50s who don't speak more than a couple of words in English, and I don't mind spending time searching for info on Korean websites to satisfy my curiosity. It's probably no surprise then that I end up with a different perspective than the people in the first category.
Oct. 10th, 2012 06:47 am (UTC)
Vey sweet Valentines day. Super sweet. :)
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )