Lunar New Year

They have told me not to pay attention
To the importance that they give a name,
For it does not matter the intention
As the identity will be the same.
Ownership comes with specification
To the ones who had first called it as so,
No longer belonging to that nation,
Letting the imperialism grow.
When you go off to the celebration,
Discuss why you go to dance and sing.
Does it matter that the iteration
Of a country is part of the ringing?
So I would like to raise my glass in cheer
To this great holiday, Lunar New Year.

Chinese versus Lunar

I am probably making a bigger deal about this than I should, but there is something about Chinese New Year that bugs me. It is a day that is celebrated all over the world, and it is based upon the waxing and waning of the moon. It is so popular that people in Thailand even celebrate the Chinese New Year, and I am sure that there are other countries in Southeast Asia that celebrate it as well. But South Korea does not celebrate the Chinese New Year. They have their own celebration on the same day that focuses also on the waxing and waning of the moon, but they call it Lunar New Year instead.

All of these countries get excited about this day, and it is often considered one of the biggest holidays of the year. They decorate the malls, and have many places where you can get your picture taken to prove that you were alive when it became the Year of the Bull. So my problem comes from the fact that it is called Chinese New Year in countries that are not even China. I get the fact that some holidays are specific to certain countries, and the celebration of them should hold the title of the country that they come from. But this is a holiday that is based upon legends that are shared by many of the countries of this region and is based upon a single day in February that changes with the moon. I agree with Korea that the title of the day should be Lunar New Year and not Chinese New Year.

I am pretty sure that it is a big party in China every year on this holiday. Though I have not experienced the same level of excitement associated with it in Thailand, I think part of my experience might be because the current state of the world which has probably toned down the celebrations in China as well. The point being is that there is no one holiday that is celebrated around the world that has the same kind of association with it. We don’t call it America’s Christmas even though there might be a few people who think that this is a more appropriate name. It isn’t the Celtic Halloween even though this is the place where it originated. We don’t even call it the Vatican’s Easter even though the history of this event has been distorted throughout the years and does not look like what it did when they first celebrated it.

I have no qualms with China continuing to call the day Chinese New Year either. I am just surprised that countries that wish to retain the autonomy and their own culture are so willing to give into the pressure of calling it the same thing even though that has nothing to do with the way they celebrate it. When it comes down to it, I believe it is a great holiday to celebrate, and I enjoy seeing people come together to ring in the New Year. I just hope in the future they look towards the day and recognize it as a part of their own culture and not some import from a different part of the world.

Sorry about the rant, but I hope you had a wonderful Lunar New Year, and that you find luck and happiness in the Year of the Bull.

Escaping the Grind – Itaewon Day 1

I know it is going to sound like I am the laziest person on Earth when I title my post “Escaping the Grind” three weeks after just having a long Winter Break. How much of a grind could I have been through in that short of a time? It is true that the semester has just started, and we have just gotten into the work that we need to do, but a very important holiday, Lunar New Year, has come to Korea, and the school has given me a five day weekend. Of course, I will take advantage of it, and go to downtown Seoul and see some of the sights. I am also an English teacher, so I never get to completely away from the grind. I have brought a stack of papers with me that I need to grade, and there is some lesson planning I need to do, but I do get a little extra time to enjoy life a bit.

I am not the only one getting away from the grind either. Everybody in Seoul has travelled to the smaller towns and quiet corners of the city to celebrate the holiday. Lunar New Year is a huge family holiday in South Korea, and people will travel to the locations where the head of their families reside. That location is never inside the city itself. In fact, Seoul clears out quite a bit, making it the perfect time to go downtown and see some of the sights. One of my favorite places in town has always been the neighborhood of Itaewon, and I have made this my little destination for the next couple of days.

Itaewon is probably the most international location in Seoul. It is close to Yongsin Military Base, and because of this, many of the soldiers and people who work there come to this spot to unwind and have a good time. There is a plethora of restaurants that range from Italian and Mexican, to Middle Eastern and Thai cuisine. There are lots of shops selling sports gear from the States, a variety of vinyl records and English books. It is also close to the Korean War Museum, Bukchon Cultural Village, and the Seoul Tower. It is the perfect central location to see a lot of Seoul and still have a lot of fun.

I didn’t get into this part of town until later in the afternoon, so I did not have a lot of time to explore, so I went to my favorite place right away, Vatos Tacos. This fusion restaurant takes the parts of Korean food I enjoy and blends them with Mexican to make one of the best meals you can get in Seoul. There are a few locations in town, but Itaewon has the first location. Usually I go down to this location and even at 5:30 in the afternoon, I have to wait a good thirty minutes before I am able to get a table, but because of the holiday, I was able to walk right in and find a spot at the bar. There was a steady stream of people who came and went throughout the time that I was there, but it still never filled up the way that it usually does.

Even the roads were quiet. Usually the sidewalks would be packed with people, and the roads jammed with cars and taxis. It is the perfect time to come and visit this place, and get the most out of the experience. I am excited for the days to come that will allow me to try some of the other food that it offered, and see a couple of the sights. It will be a nice break from the daily grind because Itaewon is also experiencing a break from its usual grind. Lunar New Year offers a lot of advantages to this part of the world, and I am glad that I am here to experience them.

Subway Culture versus Car Culture

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I am sure I will be accused of oversimplifying things again, but I do believe that there might be some truth about my thoughts. These notions bounced around my head over the weekend as I took many different subways to different locations all over Seoul to enjoy the Lunar New Year holiday. Does the mode of transportation that a city encourages its citizens to take help to create the personality of that community? Do we start to have a different mentality because we have chosen to drive a car as opposed to taking a subway?

If you think about it, there is a different point of view citizens have when being forced to travel under the ground as opposed to above on the streets. A strange thing happens when you walk down into those caverns. You leave behind a sunny day in a familiar territory, and take a series of tubes to find yourself emerging somewhere new a half an hour to an hour later in another part of that same sunny day. Where you left is hustling and bustling because it is situated at a subway station, and where you emerge has the same feeling because once again it is at an another important subway station. It makes you feel as if the town is always in motion.

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For some of the bigger cities in the world this might be the case. There might be so many people out there that there will always be somebody that will be wandering around the streets, no matter what time of day or night it is.

You don’t have this same feeling when you travel around in a car. Granted, there are times when you find yourself in the middle of a mad rush hour as you slowly push your car closer to its destination. As you get closer to where it is you are going to, you have to start taking the side streets to get there. The crowds slowly get smaller, and smaller until you find yourself all by your self.

There is also the distinct advantage of finding yourself above ground. There is a whole world around you that you can enjoy. The scenery isn’t just the long tunnel that takes you from one place to another. It give you context to how you got from one place to another. You do not feel like you have been magically transported to some other place in the city; instead, you took a journey to get there.

You are also in control of your route when you take a car. Granted the more complicated subway systems will give you a few options of how to get from point A to point B, but it is still through a tunnel that is as straight as day. There is no option to take a side path if you feel that it might get you there quicker, or make the trip more enjoyable. There is only one path that you can take in a subway.

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With all of these advantages a car has to offer, why would anybody choose to live in a subway community? What could it possibly have to offer that would rival the ones rules by the automobile?

There is a peace of mind that comes from riding on a subway, as opposed to driving a car. You no longer have to worry about how to get to the destination; you just let the train whisk you off to it. And in the meantime you can enjoy the ride there. Whether this is reading a book, or playing your favorite video game on your phone, you are not forced to experience the stress traveling by car can give you. Add on to the fact that traffic can be one of the worst things possible to experience, and you will relish every moment you get to spend on the relaxing subway.

But this is not the best part of a subway society. When you are on a subway, you are forced to interact with your fellow human beings. In a car, you are in isolation. In America, on the rare occasion that you are in the car with another individual, it is still somebody that you are so comfortable with that you usually spend the time in the car in silence. On a subway, you are forced to be right next to complete strangers and try to find a way to get along during the short time you are on the train together.

If you start to think about it, how does this constant connection with our community affect our perspective on life?

In the car culture, do we hide in our automobiles even more? Are we willing to let more people into our lives, or do we only allow the ones we feel comfortable with into our little box? How does the world look from behind a bullet proof windshield?

Or do we engage in the unknown every time we move from one location to another? Do with look with anticipation every time the door of our vehicle opens to see who might enter into our world? Are we willing to let those people into our lives just so we can share the joy of being alive?

How far does this go? Do we scream from our computer screens or do we engage in conversation with our neighbor? Do we hide behind our walls, or do we open our borders to new ideas?

It sometimes strange the things we think about while we are on a subway.

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