Seolnal at Anne's Home

The Family Meets

Seolnal, or Lunar New Year was upon us. This is one of two big Korean holidays, and it is obligatory for one to visit one's family. I was dreading the drive to Seosan. On a good day this drive should take about three hours, but Seolnal is notorious for having bad traffic. We left at around mid-day, and the traffic was remarkably clear. It didn't take us long to get out to my Mother-in-law's house.

No Description
Winter crops and freshly tended graves.

There are good parts and bad parts to visiting in-laws. The best part of visiting my in-laws is that they live out of the city. Most days, especially in winter, it seems like I go for days without seeing anything green. It wonderful to get out where the air is a little fresher, the stars at night are visible, and most of all, where there isn't a car horn to be heard.

No Description
A freshly ploughed field.

At Seolnal, which is a three day vacation, Koreans visit their relatives in shifts. On the first day, the Father's family is visited. The second day is a travel day, and on the third day the Mother's family is visited. As my family doesn't live in Korea, and aren't expecting a visit anyway, we were to spend the whole three days at Anne's mother's house.

No Description
The kitchen fires, with their big cauldrons of hot water, heat the entire house through ducts under the floors.

We arrived to find that Anne's oldest brother was already there with his family. We sat around for a while, then Anne and I popped off to collect her other brother from the bus stop. The sun was setting and the fields looked beautiful. Happily, I had my camera with me and took a few shots. We collected Anne's brother and we went back to the house, where we ate.

No Description
Anne's family gathers around the Seolnal table.

Later that evening, the neighbours came by to wish us a happy new year. We drank soju and communicated with smiles, waves and the few words we share in each others' languages.

No Description
One of the neighbours enjoys a glass of soju.

After a while the neighbours left, and it was time for bed. I popped out to take a few night-time shots before turning in. I slept on the floor next to Anne's two brothers, one of whom has the loudest snoring I've ever heard. I didn't sleep well. I woke up because the floor was too hot for me, and I couldn't get back to sleep because of the snoring.

No Description
The countryside at night.

The next morning was Seolnal proper. When I finally did get up, I discovered that it was snowing lightly. It was snow unlike anything I'd ever seen before. The snowflakes weren't flakes at all, they were more like small pellets of snow, some looking like flowers. It fell like hail, coming straight down and bouncing a little when it hit the ground.

No Description
Flower-shaped snow.

Anne's mother was busy preparing for Seolnal. They set up a table full of food in front of a blue screen and set five places at the table for her father and four grandparents. Then the whole family, except Anne who is a Christian, bowed three times to the table. Then Anne's mother, with the help of her oldest brother, filled all the ancestors' glasses with special alcohol and then emptied them all into a bowl on the floor. Each ancestor got several glasses of rice-wine. Then they put soup and rice in the ancestors' bowls and then emptied them into the bowl on the floor. After this, the screen was removed, the table repositioned, and we sat around to eat breakfast. After breakfast, the children bowed to the adults and received envelopes with money inside. I had gone to the bank before Seolnal to get some beautiful new 5000 won notes, which I distributed to the kids.

No Description
Anne's old neighbourhood. The village of Jinjanglee.

A little later, I accompanied the family out behind the house to the family graves. They bowed, and poured glasses of soju which they poured onto the graves.

No Description
A hillsite gravesite.

Later that morning, Anne and I were left alone with her brother's three children. The other adults went off to run some New Year errands. We went for a walk. It was immensely enjoyable to spend some time with the three nieces. The fields were bare, and there wasn't much life anywhere, and it was really, really cold. It was wonderful.

No Description
A ploughed field covered in straw.

When we got back from the walk, Anne's oldest sister had arrived from Seoul for the second day of Seolnal. This was exactly what Anne's brother had been waiting for. He said hi, then he said bye, then he and his family jumped in their car to go and visit his wife's family.

No Description
Anne, with her mother and oldest sister.

Korea was playing Saudi Arabia that night, and the temperature in Seoul, where they were playing, was -6 degrees C, which is really cold even if you don't come from Saudi Arabia. Perhaps unsurprisingly Korea won 2-0. All the Saudi players were wearing gloves.

The next day, Anne and I left before midday so as to get into Daejeon with enough time to relax before the work the next day. The trip back was uneventful, but it felt good to sleep in a bed again that night.