Saturday, 26 November 2011

Pepero Day November 11th

So Pepero Day has been and gone and I have only just got around to writing about it! It has been a busy couple of weeks. My friend from England has been living in New Zealand for the past year and she visited us on her way home. It was so lovely to see a familiar face.
I took the bus up to Seoul at 6:00 on Saturday 11/11 and arrived in good time at 11:00am to meet her at the lovely Namu guesthouse. I know we should have been spending a few minutes quietly reflecting for Remembrance Day, but I was so ecstatically happy to see Hannah that we talked none stop for over an hour before deciding to go for lunch to a little gimbap and soup place where we talked some more. It was weird for us two small town girls to be catching up in Seoul and sharing all our adventures. I explained some of the Korean food to her and we discussed the trials and tribulations of living in countries where vegetarians are looked at like aliens!
Hannah, like me has been a vegetarian for many years. Although she usually doesn't dabble in seafood, I was amazed to hear that the meat loving Kiwis had somehow encouraged her to catch and skin her own eel for a BBQ. She told me she had even explored some New Zealand chicken! A much braver girl than I am but in my defence I have eaten more strange sea creatures in the past two years than I probably ever will again!

We had a lovely day exploring the shops and markets in Myeong-dong and spent far too much time and money in the US brand fashion chain store, Forever 21. As I am living out in the sticks of Masan, it was like all my Christmases coming at once. We realised we wouldn't have much time to have dinner before we went to see JUMP, the martial arts comedy performance show. So we grabbed a Krispy Kremes coffee and donut before heading to the theatre. Coffee and donuts are a big deal in Korea. All the coffee shops have huge window seats so it was fun for us to sit with our treats and watch the Seoulites go by. 

The show itself was wonderfully funny. Before it commenced, an extremely athletic performer disguised as a doddery whiskered old man stumbled down the length of our row making each individual stand up to let him slowly struggle past... us and all our shopping bags. The audience chuckled heartily, as once he reached the other end of the theatre he then motioned that he wanted to walk back along the same row the other way making everyone stand again for no purpose other than sheer comedy value. But he gestured that he was just joking. Instead he needed my assistance to get up onto the stage to start the non-verbal show. He stuck his very muscular bottom out for me to push and pull him onto the stage. Clearly a humiliating feat for me as there was no way to push him than from the rear. I placed one hand on his bottom and he yelped loudly leading me to run back to my seat. I didn't realise it was an audience participation show otherwise I wouldn't have booked row C! Hannah of course found it all highly entertaining. I can't recommend the show enough it was delightfully playful and the performers were strong, entertaining and at times adorable.

When we left the theatre, we stumbled across a lantern festival along the Cheonggyecheon stream which I strongly suspect included a lot of the Jinju lanterns. We wrote on a piece of crepe paper and added to a huge dragon lantern made from visitor's messages. We continued walking and it was difficult to ignore that 11/11 is important in Korea because it is Pepero Day! This is a Korean holiday and another excuse for Lotte to make a shed load of money. Pepero are a boxed treat (뻬뻬로), of thin bread sticks dipped or filled with chocolate. There are a few different varieties including almond and plain chocolate. The holiday is celebrated on the 11th of November because it is said that this date looks like four Pepero in a line (11/11). It is an excuse for Koreans to buy small chocolate gifts for their friends and luckily in my case, teachers. Some kids including one of my students Alice, enjoy making gourmet homemade chocolate sticks and handing them out all neatly gift wrapped. Paris Baguette the Korean-American-French style bakery chain make some amazing baguettes, beautifully dipped and decorated with sweet chocolate sparkles and fancies to make super Pepero!

On the Friday I had picked up a milk and white chocolate baguette for my debate class as a leaving treat for three of the students moving on from our academy, in the approach to their gruelling high school schedules. It was difficult to cut a baguette covered in set chocolate and it made a real mess of my classroom but it was fun, and definitely in Pepero spirit. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture :(
Koreans love creating new excuses to buy gifts for each other. Not only does Korea celebrate Valentine's Day on which girls should give chocolate to their boyfriends, there is also White Day on March 14th for boys to buy things for their female counterparts. Rather more comical is Black Day on April 14th on which all the other lonely souls get together to eat black noodles and wallow in their singledom and lack of opportunity to celebrate White or Valentine's Day.

Pepero Day is a big deal with young people and as I say it was hard to miss! As we walked around Seoul that evening there were so many stalls and displays filled with Pepero. Everywhere we looked.... oh there was a gift basket, a sculture, a robot made from Pepero boxes!!


So we succumbed and picked some up at the gift shop on our visit the next day to the De-Militarized Zone. The DMZ is the strangest place on earth. A no-man's land 4km wide nature reserve hiding dozens of "accidental" northern built infiltration tunnels between North and South Korea. It was kind of strange watching the propaganda movies pushing home the terrors of the history and the sadness that the two halves are still technically at war and families seperated. It was a weird paradox to watch the divided country focus on chocolate sticks when the same date is used in my country to remember those who died in efforts of war. I am sure there is a deeper point to be made here, but it just felt like a bizarre state of things....

Hannah and I at the last train station in South Korea, next stop North Korea. Pepero anyone....

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