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Chuseok Blues

Last night, I was reading an article about fake casts for daughters-in-law in Korea who want to avoid Chuseok chores. According to the article,  the fake casts sold like hotcakes. Women wear them on Chuseok and pretend that they are injured, so they won’t have to help around the kitchen. One may ask, “Why do these women resort to deception just to shun house work?’ I may not have the gall to wear a fake cast and lie to my parents-in-law like these women, but I am one of the many myeonuris who dread having to do chores on Chuseok.

SOURCE: Naver

SOURCE: Naver

Chuseok (추석: Thanksgiving Day) is one of the biggest and most important holidays in Korea when families visit their ancestral homes and gather to share ceremonial feasts, but for a myeonuri (며느리: daughter-in-law) like me, Chuseok is more of donkey work than a celebration of gratitude for a bountiful harvest. I don’t mean to sound so negative about Chuseok, but when this holiday comes, it’s impossible to enjoy my days off because of all the chores that I have to do.

Chuseok holiday period lasts for three days, but this year, it is from September 6 to 10. Imagine five days of agony! It’s not that myeonuris work continuously all those days, but we just can’t get over the so-called “daughter-in-law holiday syndrome” until Chuseok is officially over.

Lucky for me, I am NOT in Korea, so this year, I was able to evade all the chores and the stress that come with Chuseok. All I had to do was to call my parents-in-law in Korea and greet them.

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Because Chuseok is a big celebration, there is a lot of food that needs to be prepared. My husband comes from a traditional clan, so the women in the family are the ones obliged to do all the work in the kitchen, while the men play Go-stop, watch TV or enjoy their chitchat. As much as I loathe the chores, I hate the fact that women do all the tedious work while men have all the fun.

Photo taken from The Korea Blog

The unfairness of Chuseok preparation as illustrated here (SOURCE: The Korea Blog)

Our Chuseok chores begin the day before the actual celebration. We wake up early and go to the eldest uncle’s house to prepare the food for the next day. Most mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law work together, but my Omonim (mother-in-law) is always busy with her business, so she never comes to help. My husband has many uncles, so their wives, the older myeonuris, do most of the cooking, while my sisters-in-law and I, the younger myeonuris, help with the preparation and do most of the cleaning. I always volunteer to cook jeon, because it seems to be the easiest thing to do… and I like arranging them nicely on a tray once they are cooked. Mind you, I’m not talking about frying four or five kinds of jeon for a small family. It’s for the whole clan! It takes me the entire morning to finish the task. After tidying up the kitchen or washing the dishes, I’m free to go… but NOT really free, because there’s work that needs to be done in the house, too.

Jeon, also known as Korean pancake, is served as an important food for jesasang (제사상) ceremonial table setting for ancestral rites.

Jeon, also known as Korean pancake, is served as an important food for jesasang (제사상) or ceremonial table setting for ancestral rites.

 

As Christians, we don’t perform ancestral rites on Chuseok called charye (차례), so we don’t have to prepare an elaborate ceremonial feast. In the morning, one of my husband’s uncles, who is a pastor, leads worship. After that, the women will be busy in the kitchen. The men are served breakfast. Abonim (father-in-law) and the uncles get to eat first, and they always have the best seats in the house. Omonim and the aunties rarely eat together with their husbands. I’ve noticed that the older women are more concerned with refilling their husbands’ bowls than minding their own food. This isn’t the case with me and my sisters-in-law. We eat at the same table with our husbands. (Sometimes it’s our husbands who serve us. ^^)

Maybe because we are much younger, we have learned to do things differently. We cater to our husbands, but at the same time, we take care of our needs. Serving

the elders, however, is A MUST.

Myeonuris are expected to stay in the eldest uncle’s house for the whole day. We take our lunch and dinner there, but most of the time, we cook, serve and clean. In the afternoon, the men go to their ancestors’ graves to pay respects, while the women chat a little or take a rest.

 

An elaborate ceremonial table called Jessasang (Photo taken from ChosunIlbo)

Ceremonial table setting for charye with various kinds of traditional dishes (SOURCE: The Chosun Ilbo)

 

My first Chuseok wasn’t so bad. I was interested in learning how to cook traditional Korean food, so I didn’t mind working in the kitchen… but when I was left to wash tons of dishes by myself, I felt like crying. My husband must have known how upset I was, so he came to help me. The aunties teased him, because he was the only man in the kitchen. That is probably why he stayed away from the kitchen from then on.

'What's your washing dishes got to do with human rights?'

Last year, my in-laws decided to have our own Chuseok gathering in the house besides the one annually hosted by the eldest uncle’s family. I didn’t fancy the idea, because it meant more house work having two gatherings in one day, but what can a myeonuri do? I have two sisters-in-law who also help with the chores, but their responsibilities begin with setting the table and end with putting away the dishes. They never stay too long in the house, I guess because they know what awaits them when the party’s over. It’s usually the eldest son’s wife, the older myeonuri, who has to do most of the work, but in my husband’s family, it’s the other way around. My husband is the youngest son, which makes me the youngest myeonuri, but we live with the in-laws, so most of the older myeonuri duties are given to me.

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The truth is, my Chuseok chores are nothing compared to those of other myeonuries. Some myeonuris I know spend days making Chuseok preparations, while mean mothers-in-law constantly hound them. I am grateful for my Omonim, because she doesn’t pressure me. My husband’s relatives are kind, too… at least this is a consolation.

Some myeonuris have to endure hours of travel time to get to their in-laws’ home provinces only to work like slaves in the kitchen. My husband’s paternal relatives live nearby, so we don’t have to travel far. What irks me are the work load and not being able to spend the holiday as I please.

Before marriage, I was told that foreign wives are usually given less work, since Chuseok is something new to them, but I never believed that. I have always known that being a foreigner does not give any daughter-in-law in Korea an excuse for failing to fulfill her duties as a myeonuri, especially on important family gatherings when all eyes are on us. Foreigner or not, married women in Korea are bound by the traditional role of an obedient and diligent daughter-in-law.

 

Now that Chuseok is finally over, let me congratulate my fellow myeonuris for making it through another year of “forced labor”. I know that most of us rarely get thanks or thumbs up, but everyone knows that Chuseok won’t be possible without our hard work.

ClappingOscar

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Why Drunk Ajossis Scare Me

My husband always tells me not to get involved in other people’s business, especially among Koreans. Most of the time, those who meddle in someone else’s affair or play hero here find themselves in big trouble. This is the reason why some Koreans never interfere when others are quarreling. Instead of trying to stop the fracas, they choose to ignore it or “watch” as if they were watching an action movie or K-drama.

Just last month, right after Chuseok, my husband and I witnessed two women getting beaten by an inebriated young man who happens to be their relative. I didn’t expect my husband to get involved, but he did… and I am proud of him for stepping in. He tried to stop the beating, but it angered the drunk man more. Other neighbors heard the commotion, but no one, except my husband, thought of calling the police.

When I came to Korea for the first time, I was taken aback when I saw two drunk ajossis fighting in the street. No one dared to get in the way, and somehow I understood why. Everyone was afraid of them.

What if you were minding your own business and all of a sudden, someone you don’t even know comes to you and provokes you? This is what happened to one of my neighbors a few days ago. He was at the parking lot, waiting for his wife, and this intoxicated ajossi spotted him and decided he would make a good sparring partner, so he began swearing and picked a fight with him. My neighbor knew better than to mind an irrational drunk man, so he tried to shun him. When ignoring didn’t work, he asked him to leave him alone, but instead of doing that, the drunk ajossi hit him in the face. He hit him back. The fight escalated. The drunk ajossi fell to the ground, but my neighbor was hurt, too. He was complaining of headache. When his wife came, he told her to call the police. Dizzy, he lied down while waiting for the police to arrive. Curious passers-by had gathered, watching the “drama”. I was watching through the bedroom window. I didn’t actually witness the whole squabble, but I was awakened by two men shouting and then I heard a loud thud. When I opened the window, I saw a man (drunk ajossi) lying on the ground and another man standing in front of him. At first, I thought that it was my neighbor who started the fight, because he was very angry and kept saying the F-word in Korean, but the whole story unfolded when the police came. A few minutes before the police arrived, the drunk ajossi woke up, moaning. He was too intoxicated that they could not interrogate him. What I could not understand is that they just left him there. They didn’t take him to the police station. On the other hand, my neighbor was taken to the hospital. They asked the drunk ajossi to go to the hospital, too, but he refused. He sat down and kept grumbling.

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I had an unnerving encounter with a drunk ajossi before. Thank God, nothing serious happened, but since that incident (which I wrote about in a previous post), I have developed a fear of drunk strangers. I still think South Korea is a safe place, but not when I see drunk ajossis around. I avoid them as much as I can, and I would never ever get in their way (unless someone defenseless is getting hurt), but they are everywhere, even in my neighborhood! Some of them are harmless even if they like to make a scene and are extremely loud, but some are inconsiderate and uncouth and should not be tolerated.