Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ninny Beth Sees Dead People or What DO you do in the Korean Countryside?

Well, if your name is Ninny Beth and you are the token whitey guest of the Kim Family for Chuseok, (Korean Thanksgiving), here's what you do:
You shuck peanuts (or in the case of Sir Inguen, recently of Surrey England, you sit in a chair and supervise the peanut shucking while taunting the dogs). You make Seongpyeon, traditional tteok with sesame, honey and walnuts inside. Please notice that we are cooking on the floor again! Countertops be damned! Who needs them? Youngji and her Omma do a lot of talking while they cook. I am consistently amazed at the consistencies that find their way across cultural divides...this is when my mom and I talk too, multitasking during the "woman" work. However, we usually do it standing up.
The filling! YUMMY! This is the best part of Chuseok. I finally learned that there is a word for a girl like me, a tteok-a-holic. In korea, I'm referred to as a Tteoksunni. I'm not really sure of the exact translation. Don't tell me. While I secretely suspect that sunni is a variation on a theme of "pig", I'm going to believe that it means "connoisseur".

Evidently, if you can make pretty seongpyeon, you will make pretty babies. Youngji's Omma was openly dubious of my ability to create aesthetically pleasing SP. I plowed on ahead, thoroughly convinced that I would be revealed to have a hidden tteok shaping genius (and subsequent baby making talent). However, I was quickly humbled as I realized that this is no easy task for a westerner. Apparently, the prevalent ideal for SP is to make it look like a smooshed dog turd with finger prints in it. I had, up to this point, not really attempted such a sculptorial feat. Despite my lack of preparation, I thought I was doing swimmingly in my task because Hyunji kept saying, "Oh! I want to see what your kids look like someday." Surely, this was a vote of approval? Well, only later when Omma told me I had to eat all my own SP because no one else will want to eat them did I realize that Hyunji was implying that my unborn babies are going to be monstrously hideous. hrmmmphhh....they TASTED fine to me.

You EAT....and eat....and eat. With ne'rey a diet coke in sight, I was confronted with all manner of Weight Watchers unapproved deliciousness. Granted it was all organically grown in ye olde garden, but still....

You honor your ancestors in an elaborate and delicate ceremony at the top of a mountain.

ceremonial food or the fruits of the fall harvest: dried fish, apples and asian pears with their tops peeled back for easy spirit access, rice wine to entice the ancestral guests, beautifully made Seongpyeon (crafted by those with beautiful children), and nuts.

Appa trims the grave mound in defference to his Mother and Father. Doggedly pulling weeds and bringing the resting place of his parents (well off the beaten path) back to a respectable appearance.

The offering.

After the family bowed, I was introduced as an honored guest. I spent a few moments, silently paying my respects to those good men and women who fathered and mothered this lineage...There was no cultural divide as I bowed in gratitude. Thank you for sharing your loving family. Thank you for teaching them how to teach me. Thank you Omma, Appa, Youngji, Hyunji, Inguen, Ilsun for taking me in, feeding me, handing me purple eggplants from the garden when you knew I was homesick for my own mother, listening to me sing in a foreign language, giving me a name that means Voice of Jade and leaving me alone to rest on your quiet front lawn as the fireflies exploded overhead. It was Thanksgiving in every way.


Pinky Lovejoy said...

I love reading your posts. They never cease to bring a smile to my face. What a wonderful opportunity to share in their culture and celebrations. Very neat.

Alie said...

very educational!

Hey, It's Ansley said...

I think when you finally come back here you will have left half of your heart there.

Neu... said...

Hey Cutie... you are vanishing away to next to nothing... must be the unique food and constant rituals you are involved in (he he just kiddin'). Sounds like a blast and a fun adventure!

D'Arcy said...

I love learning the variations and depths of human spirituality. Thanks NB!!

PS--take care of Rebecca, I miss her.

Gatsby said...

Wow that is awesome. I am jealous of your experience.

carrie said...

i'm a little behind in my blog reading, but regardless - what AMAZING experiences you are having

Marie said...

I looked at the pics when you first posted this, but it took me awhile to read the captions. You do have a Voice of Jade. And a sensitive soul that makes for great blogging. I love Thanksgiving and ancestors and when you add Ninny to that, it's irresistible.