Christmas, the biggest holiday of the year. For me, it sure didn't feel like it. Scattered plastic x-mas trees strung up with tacky neon lights (tinsel's still in) combined with a lack of snow, tasteful light displays, or any real ornaments/decor made me miss the over-the-top extravaganza you find across America.
I heard x-mas music around Daegu, but unfortunately variety does not seem to be much of a Korean tradition. It was nothing but "All I want for Christmas is You" arranged to heavy pop beats and synthesizers. A close second (and so much worse) was Wham's "Last Christmas." Made me want to say the Lord's name in vain on his birthday. Sheesh. Please watch this YouTube video and imagine yourself slightly homesick in freezing cold Korea to understand (click link). I never thought I would want to put on one of those 24-hour holiday stations so badly.
Another Christmas display from the subway, a favored environment for the decor of any occasion.
Although more than 50% of Koreans consider themselves Christians, Christmas does not get the same It's October, put up the decorations!/presentpresentspresents/close down the schools for two weeks/eggnog in your eye treatment, so I had to work on Christmas Eve.
It wasn't so bad though. Spirits were up in anticipation of a Friday off. I brought a few bags of candy for the kids and used the holiday as a reason to bring in my camera. I had a great day and who-woulda-thunk-it, the kids were PUMPED for candy.
I wasn't the only one that brought gifts.
One of my students, Hyan Ea, gave me a wonderful cupcake frosted and candied to the 9's complete with a ribbon that read "I love you" all over it. She was so clearly embarrassed, but I still made her take this picture with me.
Mike, Sally, Chris, myself and Maria. I love this class (though sadly the 5th student Lucy was missing that day) so I had to get a picture. Note: "Feliz Navidad" on the board. I taught them a little holiday Spanish since I have yet to resist pronouncing Maria's name with the gusto of a flamenco dancer: "Oy, mi corazon, Mariiiiiia!"
I bribed Che Hong and Hong Ook in the hallway with some candy to take this picture. I originally gave Hong Ook the English name "Adam" the first class we had because there's a Jin Oo and the subtlety between oo and ook (it's a real mild k) was too much for me. It ended up taking about 5 minutes of laughing and yelling to get the lesson started that day...
This is my last class of the day on Mondays and Thursdays, and they are some of the more talkative students. Sometimes we just skip the pages in the book and try to have conversation for the 20 minutes. Unsurprisingly, the last class before Christmas ended up being one of those classes. They all love and play baseball, so that tends to be a topic. Feeling seasonal, I drew them a baseball Santa. We also talked about Korean celebration of Christmas and Christianity. Note my explanation of the average American's yearly church attendance as a fraction: "1/365=Jesus time."
That night, Mr. Lee and I went to his parents house for dinner. His family is Buddhist, so they don't celebrate Christmas. His sons still managed to con him into buying them presents though. When I got there, we exchanged gifts. The Lees got me a wonderful knit scarf. It's worked wonders against the Daegu cold (teens to 20s on many days).
It wasn't like my usual Christmas eve routine of going over Grandma and Grandpa's, but Grandma Lee did her best to make me feel comfortable, and of course, well fed.
The Christmas eve feast. I've really enjoyed all the Korean food I've tried. It's not just the food itself that I like, but also the way that it is a meal that shares plates and incorporates many side dishes with different flavors. On the left, the greens are used like pockets and you take some pork and add all kinds of sides, rolling it into bite-size Korean food bliss. There was the main pork boiling in the big black pot and fried pork with a special sauce to the right of that. The heaping pile of red is of course, kimchi, and in front of that is a dipping sauce with hot peppers and whole garlic cloves (yes, they are consumed whole and raw, it's intense but it's okay if everyone's doing it). Also present were little egg-cake things, bean sprouts, and a grass-salad with a teriyaki dressing.
I ate SO much. Grandma Lee kept worrying that I didn't have enough to eat and Grandpa Lee made me pick my chopsticks back up when at one point I put them down to take a breather. She also brought out rice, roast duck, and a special traditional Korean bean soup. Yum.
Mr. Lee and I
Mr. Lee's sons, Je Yun and Je Sun have lots of energy. It seems like he keeps up with them alright though.
We played a ball game, but I think I wound them up a bit too much...
The scarf turned out not to be the only gift I went home with. I had lots of praise to offer Grandma Lee's homemade kimchi, so she sent me home with what I estimated was a 10lb bag. When I got home, I split it up in smaller, more manageable baggies. Below, the last of the bag
I call it "The Christmas Kimchi Massacre."
It was a Merry Christmas eve...
Bonus picture from Mr. Lee's youngest son's birthday. I gave them my little American flag. Way cute, I know. God bless the USA.