Saturday, September 26, 2009

Have A Very E-Mart Chuseok

A key aspect of Chuseok, which is a Korean harvest festival along the lines of, say, Thanksgiving, is the bearing of gifts to the relatives. Back in the day, I bet this would have been a couple of spare potatoes, a bottle of raspberry wine or an ox-horn comb in a burlap sack, done up with a scrap of ribbon or some silk salvaged from a worn-out hanbok (the traditional garb, as worn by the salesgirl in the photo above).

In a Korea that has become one of the wealthiest nations on earth, such simple gifts are a thing of the past. Today's Chuseok presents range from fresh fruit to towels to coffee, all done up in elaborate packages and a healthy markup. In a quick trip to the Chuseok gift section of my local E-Mart, I found items beginning at a low price of W6,000 (about USD 5) up to W199,000 (around $180). The first photo below is part of a huge stack of fruit boxes. Next is a selection of fungus selections; ginseng extracts; and canned luncheon meats--aka SPAM.

SPAM (the SPiced hAM precooked meat food product from Hormel Foods Corporation of Austin, Minnesota) has a special hold on the Korean heart, going back to the Korean War years, when refugees depended on help from the Americans to survive in the war-ravaged countryside. Leftover food, like hot dogs, SPAM and other processed meats made their way from army camps to the locals' stew pots, resulting in an enduring fondness for such foods in the Korean palate.

Food is definitely a mainstay of the Chuseok gift, in keeping with the notion of a harvest festival, such as these preserved meats; a more mundane gift might be the selection of haircare products below. And who doesn't enjoy a little liquor?

1 comment:

Chris in South Korea said...

I find it ironic that all the efforts to become more 'green' go out the window when it comes time for Chuseok. Each one of those boxes is a one-time-use only sort of deal, thrown out like yesterday's newspaper.

At least the ajummas and ajosshis collecting cardboard will come out ahead :)