It started off the way so many Christmases do, the tinge of excitement, the cutting out and pasting up of paper snowflakes and of course, the waxy tasteless (yet somehow delicious) advent calendars. But this year those calendars didn’t count down to a reunion at the family home, snuggling up into familiar beds in re-decorated rooms, but instead counted the days until we would celebrate the jolliest of seasons in Busan, South Korea. Yay?
Now there could be stranger places to spend a Christmas season. Busan certainly gets chilly enough to force the festive touque (that’s a woolly hat to all non-Canadians) onto your head, and a handful
of Koreas celebrate the holiday the way we do. Sure the lights are out and the department stores put up 3 story trees but the thing that really makes you scratch your head is that Christmas is seen as a couple’s holiday. Romantic dinners, hand holding at the skating rink, and if you’re lucky maybe even a run in with a threshold and some mistletoe. I asked my students if they would get a gift for Christmas and some eagerly responded while others shrugged. When I asked them what they got for their parents they (yet again) looked at me like I was from Mars.
“Teacher. Children not get gift for parents. Children have no jobs.”
True. Man, was I stupid. Okay, how about this “What will your daddy get for your mommy?”
“Teacher. NO. Only Children get gifts.”
“So what about your grandmother giving a gift to your mother?”
Alright. You win. Enjoy your X-Box you spoiled, thankless little dirtbag.
We weren’t gonna let any of that ruin a perfectly good Christmas. Besides we had so much to do. Wrap gifts, drink spirits, and dress the dog in humiliating hats.
I was a little worried about Christmas this year, yes, last year we also spent it away from our families but we were in Canada, land of the… Christmas… Cheer… Toronto was bedecked in festive decorations and our jobs gave us 2 whole weeks off! Christmas Eve we went to the supermarket and bought all our favourites, we stocked up on SO MUCH FOOD and hibernated for the next few days, it was quiet but wonderful and extremely Christmassy. Busan, I feared, would not be the same. It’s difficult enough to find the food we want to eat on a day-to-day basis nevermind holiday treats, Tess’s school gave her literally the 25th off and that’s it. And although the city attempted to charm us with its LED displays of winter festivals, it all lacked that magic we’ve adored since childhood.
However, we weren’t to be beaten down that easy, no sir.
Well the good thing about being here for Christmas is that we got to spend it with a few very special foreigners and some top notch locals! Alyssa and Kolby were well into the Christmas spirit with their mini tree, mini lights and great big grins. We all decided a few things were in order:
- Nog. Of the egg variety
- The Cajun Night Before Christmas
We planned to meet at the indoor rink at Shinsaegae to check the first thing off our list. And after some skypings and spirit filled hot chocolates we headed out to meet them. Running late we thought we should probably just cab it, I mean, it’s a 20 minute walk so we can cab it there in 5. Well holy God. Something happens on Christmas day in Korea because every possible motorized vehicle was parked on the road and it took us 26 minutes in the taxi!
Before we had left Thom had gotten a call from Daeun informing us that he would not be skating today because he was on a city bus headed to the opposite end of Busan in search of “heavy cream” for reasons unbeknown to Thom. I assumed it was for his mum, or grandmother or other family-member in need.
*In SK good dairy is hard to come by, now if you want something super-specific like heavy cream, you’d better be in store for a wild goosey chase.
“Does Daeun know what time to meet us?”
“Oh he’s not coming, he’s gone in search of cream. He sounded a bit distressed so I told him not to worry about skating, finding cream for his family is more important.”
“Oh my God. That cream is for our eggnog!”
We called him back and told him not to worry about the cream but it was too late, he was too far away and would never make it back in time to skate. I had wrecked Daeun’s Christmas. In my defence, I had no idea we needed heavy cream, that Daeun had been charged with finding heavy cream or that there was even such a thing as heavy cream. This eggnog had better be worth it.
But enough about ruining our lil buddy’s holiday. LOOKAT HOW MUCH FUN WE’RE HAVING!
Once our ankels had sufficiently swollen we decided to kick off the ol’ blades and waltz up to the rooftop park.
What a view.
One of my favourite things about Korea is their use of rooftop space, there doesn’t seem to be a building in the city that isn’t doing something with their rooftop, be it a veggie patch or clothes line or this park atop Shinsegae, it’s a wonderful thing that I wish more places back home thought about.
Once our bellies started rumbling, we took a stroll across the river to our humble abode and picked up food supplies, gifts and a certain Sir Flashington before we all headed to Alyssa’s apartment to start the real festivities!
Beer, Wine, Spinach & Brie crepes and the biggest veggie platter I’ve ever seen! It was a bit of an unorthodox Christmas dinner but it was so tasty. When Daeun arrived we started to gather the ingredients for the eggnog. Eggs, milk, rum – of course, but when it came to the part about heavy cream and we turned towards Daeun, he looked at us blank.
- “Heavy cream? What for?”
- “The eggnog, Daeun, that’s why you missed skating, right? To get heavy cream.”
- “Yes, but you told me to not worry about it.”
- “Yes so you would come skating, but you were already at the shop”
- “Oh.” “So where’s the cream?”
- “I think, maybe, I did not get the cream.”
So the poor chap had not only missed out on skating but had rendered his entire afternoon pointless by not even obtaining the very thing he had missed it all for.
No need to panic, I’m sure milk eventually turns into cream? Right guys? So we took turns and altogether probably spend about 45 minutes whipping this unwhippable mixture into the heavy cream it dreamed to be. Still, nothing to fear, since our good man Daeun decided to bring these badboys instead.
We laughed, we drank and we ate ourselves pretty much into comas. It’s how a Christmas should be. We gave ourselves arm cramps and finally turned the milk into something that vaguely resembled heavy cream, (frothy milk) thus successfully creating our very own eggnog! After all that, of course, Daeun didn’t even like it. Flash did though. A small lapse in our group concentration and he was in. Lapping up our hard work like he had to see what all the fuss was about. He probably consumed enough rum to give himself a good buzz.
Later, the Lousianians delighted us with a reading of “A Cajun Night Before Christmas” – a spooky tale from the Bayou where Santa’s sleigh is pulled by ‘gators and dogs are actually called dorgs. Just as we were about to leave, Yeonju showed up. We handed her a mug of the dog-lapped eggnog and continued our celebrations until the wee hours.
We knew Sir Flash had had too much when he started dressing up and doing impressions.
Good food, Better friends, and yet another embarrassing ensemble for our poor dog Flash.
More like Stanley Poochey!!
Naturally once we returned home with a drunken dog and arms full of gifts we sat our sleepy cheerdrenched selves in front of the skype machine and made some holiday memories with our round the world families. England, Iroquois Falls and Edmonton. 4am is a decent bedtime considering the distance we covered and all that time travel we did.
It may not have been a Christmas-as-we-know-it but it was not without charm, cheer and a sprinkling of magic, all in all it was a pretty special day.
Merry Christmas. Every one.