From Korea with Love

"I carry your heart with me… always."

An Open Letter to Newbie Myeonuris on Seollal

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(Photo from aigooyobo)

Dear Newbie Myeonuri,

               You must be feeling nervous, uncertain of what tomorrow is going to be like. You’ve probably heard from other myeonuris what a pain in the arse Chuseok and Seollal are for us married women in Korea. I’ve been a myeonuri for eight years now, and let me confirm what you’ve heard from the others… sorry to break it to you, but you’re not going to have a ball tomorrow. You’re going to wish you had the ability to teleport, so you could be somewhere else… not in the kitchen, enslaved by incessant housework a.k.a. myeonuri duties. I’ve been there, and I survived it. I don’t loathe Chuseok and Seollal as much as I used to. You’ll survive it, too. Just think of it as another gloomy day of your life that shall soon pass. You might feel like you’re wasting a decade of your existence every time piles of dishes are being brought to the sink, but there will be an end to it. Your hands might go numb from cooking jeon and preheating food from breakfast until dinnertime, but don’t you worry, the numbness will fade away with some mentholatum lotion that you can purchase from any drugstore. You’d better buy it now, and remind your husband not to get too drunk on Seollal, so he can give you a well-deserved massage when all the work is over. You might sulk over the bogus machismo you’ll witness and question why men get to enjoy the day while women do all the work, but remember… every country has its own culture. You married into this culture when you married your man. You might not like tomorrow’s experience at all, but believe me, you’ll get used to it. As time goes by, your workload will be lessened. Just pray that a new myeonuri will come and that she won’t be your senior. No matter how overworked (and annoyed) you are tomorrow, keep smiling. You’re not alone in this battle. If you can, be nice… be polite to everyone… even to your husband’s most annoying family member.

Don’t throw your wrath at your husband for letting you toil the whole day. Talk to him today, and urge him to help you when work seems too much. When Seollal is over, do something for yourself. Take a rest, go shopping, treat yourself to the spa… make it your day! ^^

Good luck! Myeonuri, fighting!

Lots of hugs,

From a fellow myeonuri

Note from the author:

Before this letter gets negative reactions from myeonuris who claim that they have an awesome life and are not subjected to any distressing housework on Chuseok and Seollal, let me reiterate what I have mentioned in my previous posts (one in particular that was shared in an expat group without my permission and wasn’t received well by other readers: Things You Should Never ever Say or Do When Your Korean Parents-in-law Are Around)… not all myeonuris go through the experiences I have described in this letter. Not all families in Korea follow the antediluvian tradition of enslaving women to housework during family gatherings. Nowadays, more and more families practice equality in their households. Many younger Korean men help around the house. My husband and my brothers-in-law are some of them… but my husband’s older family members and a number of families I know still have a long way to go.

 

 

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Seollal (Lunar New Year in SK)

I have been hooked into watching Drop Dead Divas previous seasons that I barely had time to write in my blog. In fact, I almost forgot that one of the biggest holidays in South Korea starts today.

Today is the first day of Seollal season. Seollal is Korea’s Lunar New Year. It is celebrated on the first day of the lunar calendar and lasts for three days. The day before, the day of and the day after Seollal are non-working holidays. This year, Seollal falls on February 10th (Sunday). From today, most Korean households are busy preparing for tomorrow’s celebration. For two years, the day before Seollal, I had been fulfilling the duty of a 며느리 (daughter-in-law), and that is to go to my husband’s eldest uncle’s house, where we have our family gathering, and help with the cooking and other chores. This is common among married women in Korea, that is why they say that most women here dread the occasion instead of look forward to it. This morning, I didn’t have to wake up early to go to Big Uncle‘s house, because they moved out and I don’t know their new house, so instead of helping with the Seollal preparation, I spent the rest of the morning in bed and enjoyed the rest of the day going out for a walk and watching a movie with my husband. (Happy day. ^^)

Seollal preparation can be quite taxing, especially for families who have to go to the countryside or big cities to be with their elders or relatives who live far. Some families make early travel arrangements, so they won’t have to deal with the stress of getting last-minute tickets and heavy traffic. Still, there is too much traffic on Seollal season, so no matter how I try to convince my husband to go some place after Seollal, he would say, “No.” The day after Seollal is considered a day of rest, but for families who have to travel back home, it is rather a tiring day.

Most of my husband’s relatives live nearby, and being Christians, they don’t perform ancestral rites. Some Korean families make a lot of preparation for these ancestral rites. They dress in hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) and gather at the ritual table in the morning. The women arrange the ritual table that should contain a memorial tablet and all the food used as offerings to the ancestors, which are later served to the family.

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When everything is ready, family members bow to their ancestors’ spirits, make offerings and pray. After paying their respects to the spirits, they eat the ritual food set on the table. The younger members of the family bow to the elders and present them with gifts. In return, the elders give them their blessings and wish them good things. All the young members of my husband’s family bow to the elders as a sign of respect. Instead of gifts, we give the elders money in an envelope. My husband has a big family, and we would go broke if we give money to all the elders, so we give only to our parents (or parents-in-law) and the eldest uncle who hosts the annual family gathering. On the other hand, the children receive  세뱃돈 (money given on New Year) from the elders after they bow to them and say, ” 새해 복 많이 받으세요!” (Have a blessed New Year!) Parents take a lot of effort in dressing up their kids for the 세뱃 (ceremonial bowing). They have them wear colorful and pretty hanboks. A few weeks before Seollal, you can see many children’s hanboks sold in department stores all around Korea. Even grocery stores sell them!

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Two of my adorable students garbed in their cute hanboks ^^V

Hanboks are not the only popular items in the market when Seollal is just around the corner. Seollal presents are also everywhere such as fruit, meat, traditional Korean snacks, herbs and yes, even toiletries (which we get every year).

Two weeks before Seollal, my husband and I went to Homeplus to buy some groceries. There were various Seollal presents on display.

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On Seollal, we spend the rest of the day in Big Uncle’s house. We go there in the morning for the worship, have breakfast, and then bow to the elders. We usually stay for lunch and dinner. The women help one another in preparing the meal, washing the dishes and cleaning, while the men keep themselves busy drinking, talking and playing 고스톱 (a Korean card game called Go-stop). Once all the work is done, some of the women join the men in playing. I don’t know how to play Go-stop, but I have tried playing a traditional game of sticks called 윷노리 (Yutnori).

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My husband plays Go-stop with Omonim and some of his aunties.

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Last year, my husband and I won 70, 000 KRW (almost 65 USD) from playing Yutnori with the family. ^^

To be honest, I don’t like it when the women stay in the kitchen most of the time while the men enjoy themselves. It’s not as if women don’t get to sit down and rest, but wouldn’t it be better if there is division of labor among men and women? (Just saying… ^^)

새해 복 많이 받으세요… Have a blessed new year! ^^