Sunday, November 8, 2015

Chuseok and camping in Okgye Valley

Photo from here

In September we had a long weekend for the Korean Thanksgiving holiday, called Chuseok. Although it's actually a harvest festival, it reminded me of Obon in Japan, in that it's a day for remembering or praying to your ancestors. The two holidays have a few similarities, but in general Chuseok traditions are pretty different from Japanese Obon festivals. For Chuseok, Koreans go to visit their parents and grandparents, and children are supposed to bow to their elders. We even spent a morning at my school teaching the kids about the significance of Chuseok and how they should bow to their grandparents. The kids and some adults as well get all dressed up in traditional clothes called hanbok - you can see examples in the photo above.

Traditional Korean food

For Chuseok some families prepare special food and offer it to the spirits of their ancestors. Everyone eats a big meal with traditional food like persimmon and a kind of rice cake called songpyeon (송편). Songpyeon are steamed over pine needles and stuffed with things like sesame seeds, beans, nuts, honey, etc. I tried one type of it with honey and sesame seeds and it was really good. I was also given so many nice gifts from the parents of my students, despite the fact that I had only just arrived at the school. In particular, I received loads of persimmon and cake.

Songpyeon (photo from here)
So much persimmon!

Thanks to the holiday we got a three day weekend, so Anna and I took the opportunity to go camping in a place called Okgye Valley. It's located about an hour and a half north of Pohang and a little bit inland. The valley is really beautiful, with rolling hills, pine trees and a curving river that you can camp alongside. We were given some general directions on how to get there from a friend, but arrived pretty late at night and stumbled around in the dark looking for somewhere to camp. We followed the sound of voices and ran into a big group of foreigners from Pohang, who we had met once before in town. We joined them and had a great evening drinking soju around the campfire and swimming in the river at night.

The next day we tried to do a nearby hike that we were told had great views of the valley. At the trailhead we had two options, and we tried the trail to the left. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a mistake because it was one of the most overgrown trails I've ever tried to hike. We quickly lost the trail after about an hour and ended up hiking through a dry creekbed. We made it to a ridge where we had a good view, but on the way down I slipped and injured my hand. It turned out to be nothing but a bad bruise and some swelling, but we cut our camping trip a little short as a result.

A little waterfall at the beginning of the trail

The beautiful and extremely overgrown trail we tried to hike

Up on the ridge, looking out over the valley

A little worse for the wear, but I made it out alive!

This is the trail from the parking lot that you actually want to take (to the right, NOT to the left)
Despite the minor injury, it was a fantastic place to go camping that I am looking forward to returning to sometime soon, maybe when things warm up again in the spring. If you find yourself in the Pohang area, I definitely recommend visiting Okgye Valley.

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