Chuseok is a time when families gather to venerate ancestors and give thanks for the year’s blessings. Folks gather to share meals, participate in traditional rituals and enjoy recreation. It is a time to rest and spend quality time with loved ones. The highlight, however, has to be the wide selection of fresh produce and meals, which are diligently prepared by all the women of the family.
I remember the times I spent Chuseok with my extended family in Korea. It was everything I just mentioned to you and more. But, since my family moved to the U.S. in 1999, I associate Chuseok not just within my own family, but also with those who have become my family far away from the motherland. Most of them are church members who also immigrated to the U.S. for a variety of reasons, similar and different from ours. This shared immigration experience, I think, helped us bond intimately and made it easy to consider each other as “family.”
Usually, Chuseok for my family in the U.S. looked like this: celebrated at a church member’s house, the feast would be prepared by all the women of the congregation. Each were eager to show off their cooking skills, and, of course, gossip about their children, while the men patiently waited, sharing their childhood stories and concerns over politics.
Unfortunately, this year, for the first time in my life, I celebrated Chuseok alone in my home away from home, near my college. I missed my mom’s cooking, and noticed myself craving a wholesome Korean meal over great conversations and laughter (not to mention feeling the sadness of not having first dibs on all the leftovers).
Unable to put aside my cravings, I drove over to a Korean grocery store. I swiftly maneuvered around the store picking up ingredients for one of my favorite dishes, seafood pancakes. I decided that although I would not be able to enjoy a full course meal of Korean amazingness, I would still treat myself to some Korean pancakes (부침).
I prepared the ingredients; fresh veggies, chopped, the pancake batter beat to a perfect consistency, and lastly, the fresh seafood mix I bought from the Korean grocery. I glazed the frying pan with olive oil and roasted garlic cloves to give the pancake a hint fresh garlic taste!
My roommate, Jen Chen, who shares my fondness for seafood pancakes, was more than eager to have dinner with me. Both of us waited patiently looking over the sizzling pancakes in the frying pan.
We set the table, took out some kimchi, made dipping sauce with soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, garlic, red pepper flakes and green onion.
As soon as the plate of seafood pancakes hit the table, we were in Chuseok-topia, and soon the plate was spotlessly empty.
While Jen and I were cleaning up the incredible amount of mess we made in the kitchen, I couldn’t help but to think about my mom. How much time and care she puts into preparing every meal, and how little I helped in the kitchen all these years. Then I thought of how during Chuseok, the women of the family support and help each other to prepare, cook, eat and clean up. How having the support system probably made the occasion more enjoyable than tiring. As I thought this, I was glad to have Jen by my side prepping, cooking, eating and cleaning with me. I also gave a ring to my mom and thanked her for the meals, the love and care she puts into everything. I reflected on how much it means to have a family, a support system and a place to gather.
So wherever you are, surround yourself with good people. Spend time with them, share a meal and most importantly, help them in whatever it is that they need help in. Support them in times of need and be with them in times of happiness. Then you’ll soon see yourself surrounded by those who might have once been strangers, but now who you can call “family.”