It’s not for the same reason I went back in 2011. That time I went to teach English at a language camp for kids. The time before that (in 2005) was for the same reason.
I’m flying to Seoul on February 6th because I’ve been invited to spend the Lunar New Year with a Korean family. Not just any family, but that of Juno Kim.
The Lunar New Year is one of the two most important holidays in Korea, and one that is celebrated with lots of food and family. Two years ago, I spent the Lunar New Year with a family on Jeju Island who I met through couchsurfing. It was of the most interesting cross-cultural experiences I’ve had, and am looking forward to spending the holiday again, with a different family.
Last New Year, I was a guest. Being male and a guest, I was only able to sit at the table and eat all the food that was brought out to me.
This year, I would like to see where all that food comes from. I’m hoping Juno’s mom will allow me into the kitchen to take a closer look at the food and the way it is prepared. Juno has always stressed how important a role food plays in the holiday (and in Korean culture as a whole) and if I only eat it, I’m missing half the holiday.
The problem with my culinary curiosity is the fact that men in Korea do not prepare holiday food. They only sit and eat it. In fact, Juno’s memories of holidays are not that wonderful because they require the women of the hosting families to be involved in food preparation for days straight. That is how she spent her holidays growing up.
I’m hoping that because I’m a foreigner, I’ll be allowed to help cook and learn some of the food preparation. That’s a good excuse, right?—that I’m trying to learn about Korean culture? I’m also wondering what the other men will think about my being in the kitchen.
Juno and I will be traveling through the rest of Korea after spending the holiday in Seoul. We hope to visit some of her friends who live in some other cities. I’m hoping to get off the beaten track a little bit and visit some lesser-known places.
In general, reaching out-of-the-way places isn’t hard to do in Korea because there isn’t really a designated tourist trail. Domestic tourism exists and there is a substantial population of foreigners living in Korea (military and English teachers), but overall there are not a lot of international travelers.
One of our destinations is Jeju Island, which is in fact, probably the most popular tourist target in Korea. While there is a lot kitschy tourism on Jeju, Juno and I will be focusing on the natural and local aspects there. One plan we have is to walk across the island in five days using the network of walking paths. A long-distance walk was one of my travel goals for 2013.