Korea: Longer holidays mean more stress
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Korea: Longer holidays mean more stress

There are few mornings when the busy streets of Seoul are nearly empty and the bustling city feels like a ghost town. The Lunar New Years morning is one of these and possibly the eeriest day of the year. Today was officially the third day of the New Years holiday, (this holiday basically lasts three days) but the holiday atmosphere will continue throughout the weekend as the end of the official holiday is followed by Saturday and Sunday, making this weekend a so-called Golden Week, or the Sandwich Holidays. Longer holidays, however, cannot be all that good.

Traffic. As the majority of people started heading back to Seoul yesterday, highways saw heavy traffic with tens of thousands of people returning from their hometowns and cemeteries to pay visits to their ancestors. The route from Seoul to Pusan which usually takes about five hours by car took more than eight to nine hours. Mountains and ski slopes were also crowded with people who preferred to enjoy the longer-than-usual holiday with their close family or friends, rather than with extended family members whose names they hardly recall.

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People wait to board the high-way bus to go their hometowns to celebrate the Lunar New Year holidays at the Seoul Express Terminal in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011. Pic: AP.

Strict gender roles. The holiday period is the time of year when gender equality issues are brought up most intensively. South Korea’s citizen media, Wiki Tree quoted[ko] a female novelist complaining about being a woman in this country after pointing out that she is the only woman who can be seen from Twitter timeline. While women cook several meals for extended families, clean dishes afterwards and take care of other chores, men usually watch TV shows, chat lazily with others and take a nap in a corner of the house. The unwritten social notion on the priority of visits aggravates the situation. While members are obligated to visit the husband’s side of the family, the wife’s family is optional. Families pay visits to the wife’s parents only after they spend most of the day at the man’s house, OR in some cases, woman’s parents are totally ignored. Women’s rights activists and organizations, and even the government department, expressed concerns over the inequality issue as the national divorce rate spikes up after big holidays. This time of the year is when the decades-old Korean idea that ‘Men should not enter the kitchen’ resurfaces and roams over capitalistic Korean cities.

Relatives. Relatives. Relatives… Emotional rifts and spats between family members are pretty universal. But in Korea, the disputes between relatives get uglier as religion take its role there. Religious conflicts between Christian members of the family and traditional Koreans has been a serious issue for decades. While Christians refuse to bow down before their ancestral altars, explaining that it is against their religious beliefs, other members accuse them of disrespectful behavior. Nagging inquisitions on your relationship and whereabouts (whether you are married yet, got a good job or entered a prestigious school) are a must in Korean holidays and lots of young members came up with excuses to get exempt from family gatherings as a result. South Korea’s most visited public forum site, Daum’s Agora picked[ko] this issue as the theme of the day and even made a special forum page for the net users to vent their holiday stress online.