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Hangeul Day: Birthday of the Korean Alphabet

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Hangeul Day: Birthday of the Korean Alphabet

Every October 9, South Korea celebrates Hangeul Day: the birthday of the Korean alphabet. Without Hangeul, Koreans may still be writing in classical Chinese! North Korea observes their own Hangeul Day on January 15, which is said to be the actual date when the Korean alphabet was made. October 9, 1446 is when Hangeul was first published and became the official alphabet for the Joseon Kingdom.

Korean calligraphy  (Photo:  Daum.net )

Korean calligraphy (Photo: Daum.net)

Hangeul means "Korean alphabet." And before Hangeul, Koreans spoke in Korean but wrote in Hanja (Korean name for Chinese characters). Learning Hanja required a lot of time as there were tens of thousands of characters to memorize. The aristocrats, typically the male elite, were able to afford such an education. The majority of the population was left illiterate as they didn't have time nor access to learn.

Korean Calligraphy  (Photo:  Wine79.com )

Korean Calligraphy (Photo: Wine79.com)

In 1418 King Sejong took reign. He wanted literacy to be accessible for the whole population so people may be able to document and share their ideas. He began developing a simple writing system. Government officials opposed. They wanted to maintain their power and were afraid educated commoners would start a revolution. King Sejong pursued the Hangeul project quietly. Some say he had a small team of scholars assisting him. Other sources say he was single-handedly responsible. Whichever the story you choose to believe, Hangeul was created in 1443. Three years later it was promulgated.

Before the Korean alphabet was called "Hangeul," it was initially named Hunmin Jeongeum (훈민정음), which translated to "Instructing the People in the Correct Sounds." Hunmin Jeongeum started off with 17 consonants and 11 vowels. Today Hangeul has 14 consonants and 10 vowels.

The Korean alphabet  (Photo:  Wright-House.com )

The Korean alphabet (Photo: Wright-House.com)

King Sejong became a legend for giving the Korean people a voice. Can you imagine how frustrating it'd be to not be able to write anything down? All your ideas are as fleeting as your memory. The birth of Hangeul was liberating for Koreans to express and share all that was in their heart and mind.

Fun little note: Hangeul itself is used as art. Fashion designer Lie Sangbong incorporates Hangeul into his runway.

Lie Sangbong's use of Hangeul in his collection  (Photo:  Liesangbong.com )

Lie Sangbong's use of Hangeul in his collection (Photo: Liesangbong.com)

Lie Sang-Bong Collection Autumn-Winter 2006/2007    ( UK.Fashionmag.com )

Lie Sang-Bong Collection Autumn-Winter 2006/2007 (UK.Fashionmag.com)

Fashion designer Lie Sangbong wearing Hangeul  ( Blouinartinfo )

Fashion designer Lie Sangbong wearing Hangeul (Blouinartinfo)

Lie Sangbong with ice skater Kim Yuna wearing Hangeul-inspired dress  ( DramaBeans )

Lie Sangbong with ice skater Kim Yuna wearing Hangeul-inspired dress (DramaBeans)

Lie Sangbong with his models, wearing Hangeul-inspired pattern  (Photo:  Liesangbong.com )

Lie Sangbong with his models, wearing Hangeul-inspired pattern (Photo: Liesangbong.com)

To learn more about King Sejong, you can visit Gwanghwamun Square. Under his statue is The Story of King Sejong, a museum displaying a wide-range of accomplishments produced during his reign.

Statue of King Sejong the Great near Gyeongbokgung Palace  (Photo: Thestar.com.my)

Statue of King Sejong the Great near Gyeongbokgung Palace (Photo: Thestar.com.my)

King Sejong Story (세종이야기)
Address in English: 175, Sejong-daero, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Address in Korean: 서울특별시 종로구 세종대로 지하 175 (세종로)
Note: There are three entrances. Closed on Mondays.
Website

Sources:
Han-Style.net
JoongAng Daily
VisitKorea

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Korea Day at San Francisco's Asian Art Museum

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Korea Day at San Francisco's Asian Art Museum

A week before Chuseok, one of Korea's most celebrated holidays, the Asian Art Museum hosted its 7th Annual Korea Day event. From art-making to live performances, family-friendly activities were scheduled in the early afternoon from 11am-4pm.

Author Bahk reading "Juna's Jar"

Author Bahk reading "Juna's Jar"

Korea Day started off with a book reading of "Juna's Jar," the story of a girl and her adventures with an empty kimchi jar. Children, parents and senior citizens alike listened as author Jane Bahk read. With the assistance of her young daughter, they held and flipped the pages together.

Afterwards Bahk revealed the history of how the book came to be. The original plot was conceived when she didn't have family yet. The idea was stored away for many years. Meanwhile she traveled the world. The first draft was dug up and rewritten when Bahk's first daughter had to experience moving away from her best friend. The revised draft had an added layer of depth and got its heart as Bahk made it more relate-able to her daughter and other children experiencing similar situations.

Illustrator Felicia Hoshino displayed original drawings and shared her creative process as well. She drew much visual inspiration from her own life experiences. Her daughter had posed for her as Hoshino immortalized her into pages of "Juna's Jar."

How to tie the bow

How to tie the bow

High Rank Official's Outfit

High Rank Official's Outfit

Costume historian Dr. Minjee Kim unveiled interesting facts about hanbok. Did you notice how in Western culture, men fold the flap of their jacket from left to right and women from right to left? In Korea, China and Japan, the flap of their traditional costumes are from left to right for both genders. Upon an insightful presentation, Dr. Kim demonstrated how men and women wear hanbok. The audience had the opportunity to see royal costumes.

How to tie women's hanbok

How to tie women's hanbok

Royal Ceremonial Dress for Princess

Royal Ceremonial Dress for Princess

For those interested in getting crafty, the North Court was filled with artsy fartsy activities. Children and adults sat around tables creating fabric buttons and mixed media zines.

Snip, snap. Attendees making fabric buttons.

Snip, snap. Attendees making fabric buttons.

Artist Youngmin Lee showed attendees bojagi, the Korean art of wrapping cloth. Everyone was welcome to watch and contribute to the community bojagi project.

The community bojagi project

The community bojagi project

Halfway through Korea Day, KABAM (Julie Moon and Tim Kim) and electronic musician John Casey rocked their set of music inspired by "The Sun and the Moon." Four panels painted by muralist Dave Kim rotated one by one as the performance progressed.

Introduction before KABAM

Introduction before KABAM

Korea Day ended with a party in the mouth: Hansik Demonstration and Tasting. Cookbook author Sun-Young Chang hosted in Korean, showing the audience how to make various dishes prepared for Chuseok. Her daughter translated, adding her own flavor to the presentation.

Chang and her daughter

Chang and her daughter

An assortment of dishes were laid out on a wooden table, teasing the audience as they walked into the room. Space was limited, so if you decide to attend next year's hansik tasting, be sure to sign up when you get to the event.

It takes much effort and time to prepare a table of Korean food. Chang used the whole weekend to create this colorful feast.

It takes much effort and time to prepare a table of Korean food. Chang used the whole weekend to create this colorful feast.

The audience was given a sampling plate of bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes), songpyeon (half-moon rice cakes), baesuk (pear drink), and a kebab of beef and mushroom. Hands down, the baesuk and bindaetteok were fireworks! So delicious. Too delicious. Chang must make a restaurant. Otherwise I'll have to kidnap her. ㅋㅋㅋ (Korean LOL).

Hansik sampling

Hansik sampling

My mother said Chang's bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes) was the best she's ever had in years!

My mother said Chang's bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes) was the best she's ever had in years!

Not just because we were given free food, but because the food was so (times infinity) tasty, the Hansik Demo was the highlight of the event. I may have been sick with a cold and my mother had wanted to rest at home while watching her football game (no, seriously. She's a big sports fan!). We both agreed that Korea Day was time well spent.

The K-POP Lounge needs some development though. It felt more like a daycare center with kids sitting on the floor as a toddler teetered across the carpet mat. Nonetheless if I happen to be in NorCal next autumn, count me in for another Korea Day at the Asian Art Musem!

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Chuseok: The Korean Thanksgiving

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Chuseok: The Korean Thanksgiving

It’s estimated that 75% of Koreans hit the road for their Chuseok celebration. Being one of the most important holidays, the population is given days off from work to visit their hometown. Because the highways get filled with traffic and come to a standstill, Koreans also:

  • ride buses and trains, but book tickets over a month in advance.
  • visit their hometown and elders (usually those on the father's side of the family) up to a month before the actual Chuseok.
  • escape Korea and go on vacation elsewhere.
  • stay put at home.

Other times, the elders (i.e.: your parents) may visit you instead, especially if you are a busy working professional. The one with more time and energy may visit the other.

Traffic during Chuseok, 1993. This scene could use some soju, Kpop music, and a disco ball!  (Photo:  Namu )

Traffic during Chuseok, 1993. This scene could use some soju, Kpop music, and a disco ball! (Photo: Namu)

Traffic jam at its finest.  (Photo:  Enter6 )

Traffic jam at its finest. (Photo: Enter6)

Traffic. Some things just don’t change. Perhaps only accentuated over time. Even the lines for trains and buses are no joke!

Lines for trains during Chuseok.  (Photo:  ConsumerTimes )

Lines for trains during Chuseok. (Photo: ConsumerTimes)

Traffic has become a huge part of Chuseok. However, let's focus on tradition and origin.

What is Chuseok about? Celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month according to the lunar calendar, families gather to honor their ancestors upon a bountiful harvest. If no harvest, no ancestral worship. Three main activities occur in regards to paying respects:

  • Charye (차례): various Korean foods are prepared and placed on a table, along with piles of fresh fruit. Arranged in a specific order, the food is offered to the ancestors, whose spirits are thought to protect the living.
  • Beolcho (벌초): families visit their ancestral graves, pulling out weeds and trimming the grass.
  • Seongmyo (성묘): at the grave site, family members take turns bowing to their ancestors.

As the population of Christians increase in Korea, these ancestral rites are less observed due to religious beliefs.

Charye. Family wearing hanbok, facing the wooden table of prepared foods.  (Photo  :  Tagstory )

Charye. Family wearing hanbok, facing the wooden table of prepared foods. (Photo: Tagstory)

Beolcho. Family members tending their ancestor's grave.  (Photo  :  Kyeonggi Ilbo )

Beolcho. Family members tending their ancestor's grave. (Photo: Kyeonggi Ilbo)

Seongmyo. Taking a bow.  (Credit:  Kookje )

Seongmyo. Taking a bow. (Credit: Kookje)

In celebration of an abundant harvest, food and entertainment are aplenty! The women in the household would gather and make songpyeon (송편), half-moon shaped rice cakes filled with sweet to semi-sweet ingredients. These days though, modern Koreans tend to buy them from the market. It saves a lot of time, money and energy! However it does make me sad that our tradition is gradually dying out. Perhaps one day we'll find ourselves with more resources for songpyeon-makery for it become common practice again.

Some of the prettiest songpyeon I've ever seen. Look at how they glisten under the light.  (Photo  :  Igloos )

Some of the prettiest songpyeon I've ever seen. Look at how they glisten under the light. (Photo: Igloos)

So much labor just to spell out "Chuseok" in Korean. There must be at least twelve dozen songpyeon in this photo!  (Photo  :  Joins News )

So much labor just to spell out "Chuseok" in Korean. There must be at least twelve dozen songpyeon in this photo! (Photo: Joins News)

Traditionally, women would hold hands and do the ganggangsullae (강강술래). They would dance in a big circle under the full moon.

Elderly ladies performing ganggangsullae under the sun.  (Photo:  Tistory )

Elderly ladies performing ganggangsullae under the sun. (Photo: Tistory)

Ganggangsullae. Young ladies for an indoor performance.  (Photo:  Weyesweb )

Ganggangsullae. Young ladies for an indoor performance. (Photo: Weyesweb)

What do the men do? Ssireum. Korean wrestling. The sport had its heyday back in the Joseon Dynasty. The ultimate winner would receive an ox. In an agricultural community, that's one of the best prizes anyone can get! I would wrestle to win an year's supply of homemade kimchi.

Korean wrestling  (Photo:  Mnsoft )

Korean wrestling (Photo: Mnsoft)

More Korean dudes getting it on with ssireum.  (Photo: ROK Armed Forces)

More Korean dudes getting it on with ssireum. (Photo: ROK Armed Forces)

Korean girls being cuter than competitive during their wrestling match. Winner gets a fresh bowl of sweet bingsoo!  (Photo:  Saba )

Korean girls being cuter than competitive during their wrestling match. Winner gets a fresh bowl of sweet bingsoo! (Photo: Saba)

Games vary with each region. Modern Koreans though tend to stay in their Western clothes and have the television running in the background as family members chitchat. Boys may hang out with their buddies at the PC bang. Girls may drag their parents to take them to karaoke. The level of celebration varies with each family. Some may stick to the traditions of Chuseok while others go on vacation.

Who cares what anyone else does? Let's go party it up! Historic sites and amusement parks in Seoul are likely to be open, so check their calendars to join in on any festivities.

Sources:
Chuseok: Korean Thanksgiving Day
Chuseok Holiday in Modern-Day Korea

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