My long extended Chuseok holiday consisted of a one-day trip to the ancestors’ gravesite on a South Coast hill, two movies on the full moon day and another on the following day, a family luncheon and a four-day stay at a friend’s country villa. The highlight, of course, was beholding the perfect lunar circle hours after watching the sun set into the horizon of the West Sea off the coast of Anmyeondo.
Experts were right that the moon is “more round” on the night after Chuseok, Aug. 16 by the lunar calendar, than the very night of the full moon day. It is perhaps because of the position of the Korean Peninsula though I do not know the secret. We were only glad that weathermen were wrong to have forecast cloudy skies over the central region during most of the 10-day holiday period.
The drive to my “seonsan” or the family gravesite in Gangjin County about 400 kilometers away and back to Seoul in a van in a little more than 12 hours was possible thanks to the opening of two new expressways over the past several years, one of which passes by the town of Gangjin. But you have to be very careful not to miss the exit from one highway to enter another.
After we started from near the Gangnam Highway Bus Terminal, we first took Highway No. 1 (Seoul-Busan), then switched to No. 25 (Cheonan-Nonsan), No. 30 (Dangjin-Yeongdeok, for just one minute), No. 151 (Seocheon-Gongju), No. 15 (West Sea Expressway) and finally to No. 10 (Namhae Expressway). I could not but deeply thank our infrastructure planners for having built as many as six highways to help me get to my hometown in such a short time so comfortably.
Being reformed Christians, we descendants from Seoul did not hold any traditional form of ritual before the tombs of my father, grandfather and great-grandfather but just made prayers for the resting of their souls.
Sorry to them, when I am dead, my remains will not be buried at this gravesite because I have made a corpse donation contract with a general hospital in Seoul, which will have the rest of my body cremated after using parts of it for medical research. My ashes will be scattered in the Somang Church Cemetery, a patch of pebble ground at the church retreat center in Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province, created for such purposes 20 years ago.
On the Chuseok day, my wife and I went to a cinema near the church and saw “The Beguiled,” a US Civil War movie starring Nicole Kidman, and “20th Century Women” in which Annette Benning charmingly played the leading role as the mother of a precocious schoolboy. We ate a Big Mac between the two movies. The next day, we the family of 11 including four teenagers saw “The Fortress” after eating lunch at a family restaurant.
Lee Byung-hun as appeasement-seeking minister Choe Myeong-gil in the court of King Injo during the Qing invasion of 1636 and Kim Yun-seok as hawkish faction leader Kim Sang-heon made moving arguments before the indecisive monarch in solemnly-worded lines based on Kim Hoon’s best-selling novel “Namhansanseong.” Our young spectators seemed saddened by the scene of the king’s forehead smeared with soil when he kowtowed to the Manchu Chinese emperor.
The movie led us older viewers to think of what China is to us in history and today in the eternally complex geopolitical situation here. During the merry Korean thanksgiving holiday when millions travel inside and outside the country, joining loved ones, holding feasts and spending good money, we cannot completely forget about foreign harassments past and present. What the US is to us is another major question in our heads that few other peoples on the globe would share with the same seriousness.
I was surprised to know that all three couples that I joined in Anmyeondo had stored some emergency items from their “natural consideration” of the current situation. They included “geonbbang” biscuits, bottled water in excess of the usual number and candles and one even had purchased boxes of matches. The well-prepared friends, however, confessed they knew these were not of much use in the event of real emergency and we all agreed.
Anmyeondo, famous for the black- and red-stemmed pine trees that cover virtually all of the low hills of the island, fine sands along its western beaches and spectacular sunsets, drew tens of thousands of holidaymakers to its numerous pensions and hotels. Well-paved roads were congested with cars heading to shrimp and octopus fairs and botanical gardens. Young couples with little children and some with old parents looked happy to spend the long holiday in a popular tourist place.
If there was anyone searching for any signs of unease in the faces of travelers from cities, he would have difficulty finding an explanation for the absence of jitters. In the evening, people briefly watched TV news reporting another Donald Trump Twitter warning to Kim Jong-un before switching the channel to watch their favorite soaps.
One thing that we were particularly thankful for was the reduced number of TV appearances of politicians from either ruling or opposition groups during the holiday period, perhaps because of the ongoing strikes by the reporters of the two major terrestrial networks KBS and MBC. Their endless confrontations these days have been as disturbing as the North Korean rocket launches.
The good people of Korea who have existed through the six postwar decades through recurring security tensions have all but lost the instinct of reacting to threats to their peaceful lives. But they should not be like frogs in a pot that cannot feel the danger approaching. In the long Chuseok holiday which allowed them some time for contemplation between merrymaking, they must have realized how precious peace is and how bad those who destroy it are.
My way of enjoying Chuseok was a little different from the traditional way and from how young members of our society spend it. But we all have one thing in common – our bottomless desire for peace, which was reconfirmed through our respective activities in freedom. By Kim Myong-sik
Kim Myong-sik is a former editorial writer for The Korea Herald. He can be reached at email@example.com – Ed.