Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My bunny lies over the ocean

We're have five days off from school this week, counting the weekend, for the biggest holiday on the Korean calendar, Seollal, Lunar New Year. In the States, it's generally called Chinese New Year... and by the way? Those Chinese restaurant place mats that give your Chinese sign? Yeah, well, if you were born in the first three to six weeks of the year, they're wrong... the New Year doesn't begin on January 1, you know. So if you gave birth today (which I imagine would be a big surprise to you), your child would still be a Tiger, not a Rabbit, no matter what the place mats at Ho Lee Chow say. (That's the actual name of a restaurant in Itaewon... it's a lot better than "Chinee Takee Outee" in Gainesville, Florida, at least.)

The Rabbits arrived a little early at Gimpo Airport this year.

Anyway, tomorrow, Thursday, is the actual date of Seoullal, the start of the Year of the Rabbit. I'm going to go to the "38th Parallel Hash" in Uijeongbu (home of the fictional but beloved 4077th MASH) on Friday, and I'm supposed to find a rabbit hat or ears or something before that. (Wearing my handsome tiger hat would be a faux paw, akin to wearing a "Happy Old Year" hat to Times Square for Reg'lar Ol' New Year.)

But what I really want to note is the array of riches showered upon us teachers in the last couple of days...

The father of one of our girls who got early admission to a Japanese university brought in a huge box that held a dozen flat, rectangular boxes; each box had the LG logo on it, so I was rather hoping for a flat-screen tv, but the six soaps, three shampoos, three conditioners, and six tubes of toothpaste will be welcome too. (LG, like all the Korean conglomerates, has its name on every kind of product and service imaginable.)

The mother of one of our kids gave those of us who wrote recommendation letters $50 gift cards to Starbucks.

For Seollal itself, various parents gave us:

an eleven-pound gift box of magnificent Korean apples, each one the size of John Goodman's head.

a big bag of  ddeok. (What's up, ddeok?) They're round disks made of rice flour that are usually served with spicy red sauce but can be thrown into soups and such.

a chocolate birthday-style cake made of rice flour.

wicker baskets full of rice candy and tangerines.

A $30 gift certificate to the upscale Shinsegae department store, which fortunately is also good at E-Mart, which Shinsegae owns. I'm set. I'll certainly never have to buy soap or toothpaste again, anyway. 

E-Mart and Home Plus and other department stores are always packed and colorful leading into the big holidays, displaying expensive gift boxes full of fruit (as above) or toiletries (as above) or Spam (a great delicacy) or wine or whiskey. Most of the multitudinous female sales associates still wear their jacket-miniskirt-leggings combos that say "Heineken" or "Kelloggs" or whatever, but a lot of them are resplendent in their traditional hanbok like the outfits the kids are wearing in the rabbit photo above.

And tomorrow is the big event itself. As the French say, "C'est une bunny day." (It's a good idea.)

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