Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Gate to the Beyond

For those privileged enough to enter the palace grounds at one of Seoul's palaces, areas that lay beyond certain walls and gates were off limits, except to a very few. Most would have to leave what lay beyond those gates to the imagination and descriptive tales passed on by others. So it is with our lives. As we close up another year and look forward to the next, our future is largely unknown to us. By trusting God who is firmly in control of our lives, I know that the events yet to come will be for our good and His glory.

May all of you have a blessed New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Buddhas and Persimmons

I found this collection of Buddhas behind one of the temple buildings at Bongjeonsa Temple near Andong, South Korea. Behind the colorful and often jolly figures, some fruit including, an Asian pear and persimmon, was carefully placed.   

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Winter Sunset, Wisconsin

Winter in Wisconsin often means grey, overcast days. On those days where it is clear and sunny, bitter cold often accompanies the brightness. Yesterday it was both sunny and pleasant (for Wisconsin winters). The beautiful day was followed by a colorful sunset, which I photographed from the balcony of my condo.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Winter Frost, Wisconsin

Although I'm not a fan of the cold, winter can be pretty. These photos were taken of the woods surrounding my parents' house in Wisconsin in the morning. The heavy moisture from the foggy night painted each branch with frost.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Blessed CHRISTmas

For the first time in a number of years, I headed back to Wisconsin for Christmas. It's an especially significant Christmas, as on Dec. 22, my niece Hannah was baptized. One of the difficult things about teaching and living so far from home is that I miss many of the significant family events/milestones. This Christmas, the family will finally be together, celebrating Christ's birth at my parents' house in Wisconsin. A direct flight from Seoul to Chicago brought me closer to the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, and my parents flew in from their winter trailer home in Arizona. 

Between the 6-8" of snow that fell on Saturday night/Sunday morning (on top of what already was on the ground) and the frigid temperatures that followed it, winter definitely is upon us. But more importantly, is the opportunity to once again focus on the true meaning of Christmas - Jesus Christ humbling Himself by coming to Earth as both true God and true Man to redeem all of humanity from their sins. The ceramic nativity scene above, from Oaxaca, puts a Mexican spin on the major events of the events of the Messiah's arrival - the birth of Jesus in the stable, angels' announcement to the shepherds, and the later arrival of the Magi. 

Also set up in the dining room at my new condo in Madison is the Christmas tree and winter dolls. 

A Blessed CHRISTmas to all.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas, Gangam Style

Located at the entrance of Seoul's Nandaemun Market, this Santa sways to the tunes of Psy's viral Gangam Style song, wishing passersby a Merry Christmas with a more modern flare. Off to the right is the Sungnyemun Gate, recently restored after a 2008 arson destroyed much of the structure originally dating back to 1398. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Heavy Branches and Red Sun

After a rather heavy snowfall for Seoul, the branches of the tree next to the National Palace Museum hung just a bit lower. The warm pink of the museum's banner, along with its red sun contrasted against the rather blue sky. Such tranquil beauty.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Waking up to Winter

Following a few strange thunderbooms in the dark, the morning light revealed a winter wonderland. I love it when the freshly-fallen snow clings to the branches. It mades the commute - albeit VERY short - a pretty one.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thundersnow in Seoul

 Today, for the second time this week, we had a very unusual weather phenomenon occur in Seoul - thundersnow. According to wikipedia, thundersnow occurs in regions where there is a strong upward motion within the cold sector of a tropical cyclone. For a thundersnowstorm to occur, a mass of cold air must be on top of warm air, plus moist air near the ground.  A bit of lightning was mixed in along with some thunder, and the sky was a bit grey-green. In addition, some graupel (ice pellet-like formations when super-cooled droplets of water freeze on snowflakes) fell for a short time.
Tomorrow is the last day of school before the Christmas break. Didn't stop some teachers (and likely students as well) from doing a "snow day dance."

Monday, December 09, 2013

Delicate Glow and Hardened Brilliance

The juxtaposition of these two beauties caught my attention while walking around the Seoul Museum of Art. Although both the sculpture and gingko tree proudly displayed their brilliant colors, the amber nature would soon be just a memory, with its golden petals already fluttering to the ground in the wind. By contrast, the metal petals of the sculpture would continue to boast of its saturated colors, well into the harsh winter season.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Water Clock at Deoksugung Palace

Until I did a little reading, I mistook these two bronze bronze relief pieces at Deoksugung Palace as sculptures. Instead, these national treasures are part of a water clock, constructed in 1536 and used by the royalty to mark the standard time of the kingdom. Elaborate dragons, believed to inhabit ponds and lakes of South East Asia, encircle the cylinders. In addition to the two original cylinders, three bronze bowls of the clock also remain. You can read more about the clepsydra-style water clock on Wikipedia.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Gwangmyeongmun Gate, Deoksugung Palace

Located in a quiet corner of the Deoksugung Palace is the Gwangmyeongmun Gate. It looks more like a pavilion and currently houses an early Joseon-Dynasty bell, a singjeon rocket launcher from around 1377, and parts of a water clock. Originally serving as the entrance south of Hamnyeongjung Hall, the Japanese moved the gate to its present location in 1938 and repurposed it to be an exhibition space for the Buddhist bell. 

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Glowing Gingkos and Autumn Shadows

Although Deoksugung Palace is not my favorite of Seoul's five main palaces, it has some beautiful sections, particularly in fall. These two photos are of Jeonggwanheon, a building used to host royal banquets. I loved how the golds of the porch carvings echoed in the gingko trees above. The warm orange-red glow of the maples were gracefully framed by the green columns.
It's important to look down as well. Here the shadows of the autumn afternoon cast intricate repetitive patterns on the porch floor.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Painting on the water

At first glance, this photo could be mistaken for an impressionist pointillist painting. In a way, it's a painting by God a scene rendered on the water, comprised of a variety of fallen colored leaves. What a beautiful pond at Deoksugung Palace in Seoul.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Scooping Up the Leaves

On this beautiful, fall day in Seoul, everyone seemed to be out enjoying the brilliantly hued leaves. The sculptures at the Seoul Museum of Art seem to be no exception. Crouched on the ground, it appears as if they are engaged in a common task scooping up the plethora of fallen leaves.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Suiting Up for Winter

In the past couple of weeks, the temperatures here in Seoul have really shown that winter is coming soon. At the stores and markets, sellers are displaying winter coats, warm fuzzy pajama bottoms, and winter outerwear. Even one of the bridges in downtown Seoul has been winterized. Knitters from all over the city have contributed their stripes and bright patterned creations, which have been stitched together and are now keeping the bridge warm. A very unique addition to the Seoul lantern Festival
Knitted globe "Feel the Multicultural Warmth"

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Neutrals and Brilliants

Gathered stalks from the harvested rice proudly stood, vying for attention against the brilliant hues of the chrysanthemums.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sloped Roofs and Amber Glow

The tiled roofs of the Buddhist buildings at Bongjeongsa Temple sloped gracefully, set amongst the gentle haze of a foggy fall morning.

Nestled amidst the amber glow of the forest on the way back down from the temple was this peaceful little pavilion. What a perfect place for reflection and inspiration.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Seoul Lantern Festival, 2013

This past Tuesday,  I attended  the Seoul  Lantern Festival.  Since 2009,  this festival has been taking place at the Cheonggyecheon Stream in downtown Seoul.  It’s amazing to think that all  that all these sculptures were created from hanji, traditional Korean handmade paper. Although they were pleasant to look at during the day, their illumination at night breathed new life into these works of art. The stream was a popular destination at night for young and old alike, but especially so for young couples.  Despite the large number of people, movement was orderly. speakers  set up by the Jongmyo Daeje sculptures emanated traditional Korean music.

See more photos at http://flic.kr/s/aHsjCMGUFR

Friday, November 15, 2013

Geuknakjeon Hall, Bongjeongsa Temple

Built during the Silla Dynasty during the reign of King Munmu (661-681), the temple has been rebuilt several times during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Nestled on the hill amongst old twisted trees are the temple buildings, pagodas, pavilions, and hermitages that are part of Bongjeongsa. Geuknakjeon (National Treasure No. 15) is the oldest wooden building in Korea, dating back to the 12th-13 century. Although it has seen several repairs (1363, 1625, 1972), it is considered to be the original building. The temple hall with its stunning original Joseon murals is also a National Treasure, as is the three-story stone pagoda dating back to the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and a few other halls.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Samcheong Seoktap, Bongjeonsa Temple

Tangible Cultural Property No. 182
As inscribed on the sign "This 3.18m high three-story pagoda was erected in the Goryeo period. It is standing in front of the Geungnakjeon Hall of the Bongjeongsa Temple. Part of the foundation is broken, and the finial is missing. However, it is almost a perfect three-story stone pagoda. The pagoda is believed to be erected at the same time that the Geungnakjeon Hall was constructed in the middle of the Goryeo Period."

Monday, November 11, 2013

Bongjeongsa Temple Arrival

After about a 3 1/2 hour chartered bus ride from Seoul, we arrived at Bongjeongsa Temple near Andong. After a quick chrysanthemum tea sample tasting, we walked through the temple entrance Ilju Gate and headed up the autumn forested hill. A foggy morning, it was slightly disappointing that brilliant hues of autumn leaves would evade us, but at least it wasn't raining.
Ilju Gate

Small gate leading up to what looked like a residential quarters

Located at the southern foot of the Cheondeung Mountain, the Buddhist temple site of Bongjeongsa dates back to 672 AD. According to a memorial writing for the construction, its location was selected after saint Eusangdaesa's paper crane that he threw landed at the site. All total there are ten buildings in the main temple site, along with a couple small annexed temples.
Even the bathroom facilities, located prior to the temple area, blended in nicely.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Chrysanthemums in Korea - More than a Pretty Flower

 On the way back down from the Bongjeongsa Temple, we stopped for a few minutes to look at the Chrysanthemum Festival located just before the main entry gate to the temple forest. Around this time of year, festivals for this ancient of flower (Chrysanthemums were cultivated in this region of Asia for over 3,000 years) dot the Korean landscape. Closely related to the chamomile flower, the leaves and flowers of the chrysanthemum are still used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. The tea I sampled was tasty and a welcome free treat on a cool morning. Chrysanthemums are also used to flavor a type of rice wine known as gukhwaju. A late-blooming flower, chrysanthemums are often used as offerings on Buddhist altars. Symbolic of the yang energy, it is seen as good luck. Although the original chrysanthemums were yellow, hence its name etymology of "chrys" meaning golden and "anthemion" meaning flower.  When reading more about the symbolism of Chrysanthemums, I found it interesting to read that the white mums are associated with lamentation, death and grief. The Japanese see the chrysanthemum as a symbol of the sun, with the unfolding of the petals to represent perfection.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Twisted Beauty

Up on a hill near the Bongjeongsa Temple, I spotted this beautiful twisted trunk. Combined with the contrasting yellow hues, this nature scene possessed grandeur. The twisted tree reminded me of those I saw at the Lazarica Church in Kruševac, Serbia. According to the legend (described further on my blog), the twisting of the plum trees was caused by motion of Prince Lazar's soldiers marching around, praying for victory in Kosovo.
Twisted tree by Lazarica Church, Serbia

Friday, October 25, 2013

Hanbok Day, SFS Style

Starting on a cool, fall morning, the entire elementary school gathered in the courtyard in front of the Korean Gate, posing in their hanboks (traditional Korean costume) and taekwando uniforms for the annual Hanbok photo. Although there was a sea of colors, pink was one of the more dominant colors, for boys and girls alike. 

 Sponsored by the PTA, each grade level had a chance to play a few traditional instruments, twirl the nongak hat with ribbon, and sample some Korean treats. 
Some students and teachers took their hanboks off after the photos, while others kept them on the entire day. Shifting a few art projects for the day to "less mess" ones enabled me to bravely keep on my hanbok for the entire day. Pictured here is my volunteer assistant Hae Jung next to me. Being a lot taller than the average Korean woman, I had to have my hanbok tailor made. The colors I selected look a lot different than that of the typical one (Hae Jung's is her wedding hanbok and is the pink color normally associated with weddings), but I feel the colors suit me well. Although I wouldn't want to wear it that often, at least I could dress myself - unlike trying to tie a sari :)