Seollal (설날), commonly known as Korean New Year, other than being the most important of the traditional Korean holidays, is undoubtedly Koreans’ favourite festival too. Koreans usually celebrate two New Years – the Solar New Year Day on 1st Jan and the Korean New Year following the Lunar Calendar. As a result, Korean New Year thus coincides with our Chinese New Year, which all of us are familiar with, and is deemed as a more important holiday as compared to the Solar New Year Day.
During Seollal, most people will usually head back to their hometowns to perform ceremonial rites, to pay respect to their ancestors and to spend time with family members. As a result, the day before and after Seollal is usually designated holidays in Korea – A three day holiday as compared to a two day holiday in Singapore.
In celebration of Seollal, Korea Tourism Organization (Singapore) actually invited the public to join them from 31st January to 2nd February at Korea Plaza to have a mini experience of this Korean festival through a few traditional activities.
Just because I wanted to try on the Hanbok (a traditional Korean dress), I sort of dragged my friend to Korea Plaza with me. Much to my delight, she pretty much enjoyed the trip there as much as I do.
In line with Seollal, there is a ‘KTO DRESS UP IN A HANBOK WITH YOUR FAMILY & FRIENDS & STAND TO WIN FANTASTIC PRIZES!’ contest being organized. Honestly, I do think that the prizes offered are pretty attractive. All you need to do is to just have your picture snapped when you are dressed in a Hanbok and you stand to win a S$300 Korean Restaurant Dining Voucher if you have the most number of ‘Likes’ on Facebook! The top 10 consolation photos being ‘Liked’ will also be rewarded with movie vouchers worth up to S$40 (per group)! Doesn’t it sound awesome for just having your photo taken and posted?
My friend was having fun posing so I took random shots of her!
Honestly, we weren’t the only ones having an awesome time (not forgetting making loads of noise) at the Hanbok Station. Just look at the number of people crowding, choosing their desired Hanbok!
It was my first time trying the Hanbok, but one thing for sure – I’ve fallen in love with it! (Though I know it’s 501% not practical to own one in Singapore at all! *cries at one corner*)
Traditional Korean Games
On Seollal Day, after the ancestral rites ceremony is over, all members of the family usually play traditional games together. The most common game is Yut Nori, a fun and easy-to-learn game that requires teamwork. Players sometimes even make small bets using their ‘New Year’s money’ out of fun.
I personally think that this is a really easy game to play and inevitably, what one needs is basically luck.
This is basically how the set looks like. It consists of a board (which in our case, we used a printed paper), 4 semi-circular wooden blocks and 2 sets of counters (4 each colour).
The objective of this game is to basically complete all your 4 counters and you win. There are certain shortcuts you can take as long as your throw lands you at those midway points on the board. See the photo below for the possible shortcuts available to win.
The throwing of the 4 semi-circular wooden blocks indicates how many steps you move. The chart below shows how the steps are counted!
When you throw ‘Mo’, which indicates 5 steps, you get to throw again.
On one of the semi-circular block, it is actually marked with ‘XXXXXXXXXX’ (refer to the following picture) with means that when you throw the 4 wooden blocks and the only one that faces you is the one with ‘XXXXXXXXXX’, you move one step backwards.
There is also the idea of ‘Catching’ and ‘Drifting’.
Catching – When you throw a number and your counter lands on the exact same spot as your opponent’s counter. That is a ‘Catch’ and your opponent’s counter will be back at the starting point, while you get rewarded with another throw to move/proceed on.
Drifting – When you throw a number and your counter lands on the exact same spot as your own counter, you can place your second counter on your first counter and subsequent moves will be done together. ‘Drifting’ usually aids in completion since instead of moving two individual counters, you can focus on one only. However, that also means that when your counter is caught, both of them will be eliminated too.
The reason as to why I feel that this game is based on luck is because everything is mainly dependent on the number of steps you throw with the semi-circular wooden blocks. And for the two times I play it, I won. The second game was really memorable because I completed the game and my opponent hasn’t even complete one counter yet. My colour is white and my friend’s was maroon.
But nonetheless, it was absolutely fun.
If you’re an avid fan of Korean dramas, you must have been pretty familiar with this card game.
Go Stop is basically a card game with flowers printed on it. As one could see from the previous picture, there’s actually 12 sets of flowers, along with a few power cards, commonly known as Joker cards.
The 12 sets of flowers.
All the cards:
When the staff explained to us the game, it took us some time before we got the hang of it. You basically need to form sets to earn points (to decide if you want to Go, which is to continue the game or to Stop, which is to end the game) and the point system is based not according to the 12 sets of flowers but Animal Cards (dongmul), 光 Light Cards (kwang), Ribbon Cards (hi) and the rest are Junk Cards.
The point system:
*Disclaimer: This is based on what I remember, so it may differ slightly from the real point system*
Animal Cards – 5 animals 1 point, 6 animals 2 points, all 7 animals 3 points.
Light Cards – When 3 lights, other than that of the month of November (bi gwang) is collected, 3 points. If 3 lights, including the month of November is collected, 2 points. – When 4 lights, other than that of the month of November (bi gwang) is collected, 5 points. If 4 lights, including the month of November is collected, 4 points. When all 5 lights are collected, 15 points is accumulated.
Ribbon Cards – Any set of 5 ribbons is 1 point. Every subsequent ribbon is additional 1 point. If three of the same ribbon type, 3 points. (max. 8 points)
Junk Cards – every 10 Junk Card is 1 point. Every subsequent Junk Card is additional 1 point. Power Cards = 2 Junk Cards.
In a two player game, the first person who reaches 7 points gets to decide to Stop or Go.
In a more than two player game, the first person who reached 3 points gets to decide to Stop or Go.
Dealing out the cards:
Laying the cards according to the point system:
Personally, this is a pretty addictive game once you get the hang of it with regards to the point system. The way you play is pretty similar to mahjong and bridge and I kind of like it actually.
Met my primary school friend there and she’s also enjoying a game of Go Stop after some explanation from the KTO staff.
Traditional Korean Rice Cake (Tteok) and Tea
It’s my first time trying the traditional Korean rice cake and I’ve to admit that I’m not in one bit used to it. There are two types. One of them has the texture of Mochi and has a black sesame filling and the other is some steamed rice cake which tasted like coconut. To me, the taste is just plain weird. It could be due to the fact that it’s an acquired taste, not everyone could get used to upon first tasting.
Two type of tea was provided – Sujeonggwa and Sikhye.
Sujeonggwa – A sweet and pungent traditional drink – made with dried sweet persimmons, cinnamon and ginger – that is customarily used as a palate cleanser, usually served as a dessert after a meal. The slight after-taste stinging on the tongue due to the ginger made this drink memorable. In addition, this drink actually warms the body, which is a perfect substitution for alcohol on a cold winter day.
Sikhye – This drink is made from cooked rice and barley malt powder. It’s believed to aid digestion thus a common drink to be seen during dining. (But do note that an over consumption of Sikhye may lead to a stomachache.) It tastes really sweet and an ideal drink during a meal since it sort of refreshes your tongue if your food is too oily.
Though only a few activities were made available, my friend and I did enjoy our stay at Korea Plaza. Many thanks to Korea Tourism Organization (Singapore) for letting us Singaporeans have a glimpse of the traditional games played and food eaten during Seollal. If the opportunity arises, I do hope that KTO organize more of such events and on a bigger scale so that I could experience something more than just a few games and traditional rice cakes. What about Chuseok the next time around? *hint hint*
새해 복 많이 받으세요! Hope that everyone will have an awesome Chinese New Year!