Chuseok Lite

Chuseok Lite

Chuseok: A time of year when most Mrs. Kims are spending hours or days chopping vegetables, frying Korean pancakes, and maybe even making rice cakes–such harrowing work that some buy these fake casts to avoid it–while many Mr. Kims are relaxing in front of a TV or busy with a soju bottle.

Spicy rice cakes (떡볶이) at a local Korean restaurant.
Spicy rice cakes (떡볶이) at a local Korean restaurant.

This is my last Chuseok as a not-actually-Mrs.-Kim and my first Chuseok as a soon-to-be-Mrs. Kim. And anyway, I’m lucky: My soon-to-be mother-in-law is really chill about everything except maybe church attendance, and besides, I live in America now, where we can pick and choose which traditions to observe. Once we have a few Junior Kims crawling around, I imagine we’ll get traditional, if only to photograph them looking super cute in hanbok, but for now, we contented ourselves with an hour at the Center for Korean Studies’ Chuseok party, a trip to a Korean restaurant and a video call to the parents(-in-law).

Awkwardly showing off my first-ever songpyeon.
Awkwardly showing off my songpyeon.

I did, however, engage in one Chuseok tradition: I made songpyeon, the rice cake traditionally served at Chuseok. At the CKS party, they had some glutinous rice dough and some filling made of (I guess) crushed-up nuts, etc. To make songpyeon, you formed the dough into a ball, made an indentation into the center, spooned some of the nut mixture in, and folded the dough over and around it, then shaped it into a crescent moon. See? Look at my songpyeon! Mr. Kim also made a songpyeon, but it was really sad-looking, and he wouldn’t let me take a picture, boo.

Unfortunately, both our pieces of songpyeon got squished in my purse shortly afterwards, but, as one facebook friend commented on my photo, at least I’m now a 훌륭한 며느리–a commendable daughter-in-law–and maybe a 훈련된 (well-trained) daughter-in-law, too!

Taking a quack at cake toppers, Korean style

Taking a quack at cake toppers, Korean style

This week, Mr. Kim and I ordered some cake toppers! Actually cupcake toppers, I think, since we aren’t really planning on a cake at this point. However, we didn’t go for the traditional or the fancy. Instead, we chose mandarin ducks as a reflection of the Korean part of our background.

© Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0
© Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Mandarin ducks are traditionally associated with marriage in Korea because they’re supposed to take only one mate for life, and apparently they used to be featured in wedding ceremonies, although I’ve never seen them even in the traditional wedding I went to. But they are still apparently common wedding gifts and symbols of love, and we thought it would be nice to incorporate them into our wedding somehow.

Of course, mandarin duck cake toppers are not really a thing. After searching (admittedly only in English, but I didn’t find anything when I searched in Korean later anyway), I made a shortlist for us to look for together; this basically consisted of any reasonably sized, reasonably priced duck figurines I could find on the internet. Here’s what we looked at:

Clay “Korean wedding ducks” cake toppers from Etsy:

clay duck cake toppers

This one, from etsy, scores points for actually being a cake topper and more points for being very adorable. They’re also fairly reasonably priced for a custom-made product. However, with a four-inch base and at 3-4 inches in height, they’re a bit bigger than we wanted, and also we couldn’t really think of what we’d do with them when we finished. I mean they wouldn’t really make good decor, and I don’t think that kind of clay holds up particularly well. Rating: 3/5

Feng shui “mini mandarin ducks for love”:

mini_mandarin_ducks feng shui

I like that these are colorful, and they are the perfect size and a great price. However, they are….kind of ugly. The texture looks kinda weird, and I don’t think Mr. Kim appreciated the colors as much as I did anyway. Also, I am kind of suspicious of sites that promise to cure all your love problems based on where in your house you put some statues and don’t really want to give my money to any quacks. (Hah hah! Get it?) So this was a no-go for us, but maybe they’d be perfect for someone else! Rating: 2/5

“Cure for love,” more feng shui mini ducks:

feng shui okay ducks

These ducks are also a great size and are, I think, a lot prettier than the above feng shui ducks. I think the texture looks better and I like that they’re also colorful, and colors I like better. Also, this feng shui site makes much less ambitious claims about the effects these ducks will have on your love life, so maybe they’re a little less “quacky” (HAH. HAH.). Actually these would probably have been my second choice, although I think Mr. Kim might have liked them less than I did.  Rating: 3.5/5

Celadon mandarin ducks:

celadon ducks

The best thing about these ducks is that they’re celadon, a type of ceramic/glaze Korea is famous for. I love the glaze and the color in general and have a couple of vases of it back at my parents’ house. I also like the red and blue ribbons on their necks. These ducks are just 완전 한국적, and I love that. However, I think they would look out of place surrounded by the fluffy hopefully-cream-cheese icing of the red velvet cupcakes I’m hoping for, especially at a wedding with a bit of a casual farmhouse vibe like we’re kind of going for. Also, they’re rather expensive and a bit too big. Mr. Kim commented that he would like a set of these (or something similar), just not as cake toppers–for example, he says, mandarin duck-shaped chopstick rests are often given as wedding gifts. And they’re probably cheaper to buy in Korea than on Amazon. So again, rating: 3/5

Ceramic duck cake toppers:

ceramic ducks

I like that these are ceramic, and I like the variety of colors they’re available in, but they’re a bit too big for us and also they aren’t mandarin ducks–the necks are too long. But, the colors are awesome! The price is okay, too. Rating: 2/5

WINNER: Korean wedding duck magnets!:

Mandarin Duck magnet

In the end, we’ve chosen a pair of magnets for our cake toppers. This may be unconventional, but they’re great because their design and coloring is really Korean and their size is pretty much perfect. They aren’t really beautiful, like the celadon ones above, and they’re less cute than the polymer clay ones from etsy, but they still look pretty good, and they’ll fit with the whole vibe of our party pretty well, I think. The delivery time is a bit long, since they’re coming from Korea, but the price is good. The best part is… since they’re magnets, after the wedding, we can keep them on our fridge and remember our wedding day! They still aren’t exactly what I had in my mind’s eye, but they’re pretty good, so I’m giving these a 4/5, congratulating myself on fitting three “quack” puns into this post, and calling these the winner.