It’s Chuseok this week. Chuseok is the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving, and for me, it’s mostly a time to give thanks for the fact that I am the only person in my circle of friends who actually likes Spam.
For some reason, Spam is the most popular gift on special holidays in Korea. And for some other reason, foreigners don’t like it. This is great news for me, as although I wouldn’t exactly call myself a fan of the stuff (I mean, really, would anyone?), I do enjoy a Spam sandwich, or Spam in a pasta sauce, or Spam in gimbap or a rice dish. And I can honestly say that I have never been without Spam since I moved here, yet I’ve never once bought any. Steve, when he moved out of my apartment, left me an impressive collection of Spam gift sets that he’d collected over the previous year… then I got a fresh batch from the school management at Seollal… and now I’m sitting here surrounded by Spam for Chuseok, with more to come, no doubt, when friends realise that they can donate theirs to me rather than throw it out.
It is admittedly a little bizarre. The sight of Spam gift sets proudly displayed in every supermarket and street stall was extremely strange to me when I first got here, but now – like many things – it seems almost normal to me. The second most popular gift is oil. As in cooking oil. And not in nice, fancy, decorative glass bottles, either… nope, just your plain old plastic bottles of oil, nicely displayed in a gift case!
It’s all feeling quite festive today. The kids are very excited, and the traffic out there is mental with most of the population heading out of the cities and off to stay out in the countryside near the graves of their ancestors, and the streets are full of people hurrying home with their cases of Spam. Meanwhile, I am putting my Spam and cooking oil on my kitchen shelves, and packing my backpack, and hoping the traffic jams tomorrow won’t stop me getting to the airport in time for my flight.
Mongolia, camels, Gobi desert, wild horses, and fermented mare’s milk, here I come!