So, what's Seollal? You know what it is. You may not know you know, but you know. In Vietnam they refer to it as Tet, and most of the US refers to it as the "Chinese New Year." It is the new year in any culture that at some point in recent history relied on a lunar calendar. The term "Chinese New Year" is an irksome title akin to referring as the Solar New Year as "American New Year," even though the majority of the world agrees that January 1 of the Gregorian Calendar, give or take a few hours (that's what leap years are for, y'all), is the first day of the new Solar Year. But I digress...
Seollal is a rather major holiday in Korea which causes the big cities to empty as families reunite in ancestral areas, usually around the countryside. This is not to say that the big cities are devoid of people, but the crowds are markedly smaller. The holiday is mostly a family holiday typified by a traditional family meal, followed by the youth bowing respectfully to their elders, and then holding out their hands for cold-hard cash. Yeah, that's how they roll here, young'uns bow, elders fork out the dough. Rad system if you're young. This system of paying off the youth in return for momentary respect leads to a relative shopping frenzy over the next few days. I ran into my friend H.Y. downtown on Friday night while he was out spending his hard-begged money as quickly as possible on his day off. Apparently he scored nearly $200US in alms.
Since I'm not Korean, and my family is across the largest body of water on this little mossy stone in space, my Seollal was just a four-day weekend without a plan. The two people who live on my floor are out of town on their own holidays, and the other three floors in my building are businesses, which are also empty, so I'm in a four-story building alone. No hanging out with the few people I know here in Gwangju. What does an intrepid-explorer-slash-photographer do with four days to himself? Walk. Walk around. See things I haven't seen before. Look for differences in things I have. Work on a couple of series. Too bad it's so rainy. Or is it?
The nice thing about the change in weather is the warmth it brings. The bad thing is the rain. The best way to ruin a four-day weekend is by having it rain. Unless, of course, you like reflections in your photographs. I've been trying to learn to use reflections, yet so far, it hasn't been working. It is also hard to take pictures while holding an umbrella with one hand, or with water on your lens. With that in mind, I have an idea for an invention that holds an umbrella over your head while you hold a camera with both hands. I'm gonna be rich.
Honestly, though, Saturday was the first warm day since I arrived in South Korea. What surprises me most is that the Koreans were, for the most part, still wearing their warm jackets and scarves. The Koreans really love to be warm. Even being a Texas boy, I was walking around with a t-shirt, a light hoodie, and loving it.
As I walked through the concrete canyons of old downtown I noticed some interesting things about the new warmth that surrounded me. Icy air, accumulated over weeks of freezing temperatures, poured freely from open doors of the tall, mostly unheated buildings, giving a staccato effect to the warmth of the day. Cool eddies interrupted the comfort of the day as I walked the nearly empty streets. The warmth, while welcome, awakened the noisome odors that run through the city like a cancer. The warm air metastasizes the affliction. Even when the temperatures fell below freezing, the scent of the streets of downtown is often overwhelming in its putrescence. The western nose is not accustomed to such an assault, and while, for a time, I thought I was getting used to it, the weekend's weather made me realize how much I have to learn. I can't wait for summer.
Basically, this was a nice, long weekend. I had fun, but didn't get nearly as much stuff done as I wanted to. I'm writing this in the last hours I have left before I sleep and then return to work tomorrow. I wish I had gotten more done, but I'm glad I got done what I did. Until my next misadventure, do some misadventuring of your own. Get dirty this time.