Last year at Chuseok time our school had a trip to a palace to learn about Korean traditional customs. Chuseok (추석) is a kind of harvest festival and a major holiday in Korea. The children wore their hanboks (한복), traditional Korean clothing. Children's hanboks are often brightly coloured with striped sleeves as you can see on some of the garments here. A lot of my little girls turned up in bright pink, but then again so did some of the little boys! I'm sure there was quite some competition between who had the most frills, flounces and butterflies on their outfit.
The first thing we learned was how to bow properly. I was pleased to discover I could understand most of what was being said to the kids by the ladies who were instructing them. My Korean isn't usually good enough to keep up with adult conversation, so I encourage people to speak to me as if I am a 5-year-old child.
Next we learned the ceremony of serving tea. The ladies told us something about tea being represented by the colour green, one of the five colours which together represent Korea itself. Or something like that. Then they let each child take turns pouring and subsequently consuming the tea, with a little rice cracker to go with it. This was obviously all too much for the child sitting on my immediate right, who at one moment seemed fine and the next was projectile vomiting into his teacup.
The girls were advised that they should cover their mouths when eating, in a ladylike manner. But this posed them with the problem of how to actually get the food into their mouths when their hands were in the way. Baffled but determind to get it right, they shoved the crackers forcibly under their hands, which were clamped over their faces tightly.
The teachers got to wear hanboks, too. I discovered the inconvenience of massive silk petticoats as I ushered kids to and from the bathrooms, which were located across a dusty dirt court. And as I was only borrowing my outfit, sitting on the floor to eat lunch was a pretty terrifying experience as the crumbs went flying. All in all though, we really enjoyed the trip and learned a few things about Korean culture. Now it's January and Lunar New Year (설날) is soon approaching, which will be another chance for the kids to don their hanboks and practice those bowing techniques.