Monday, March 31, 2014

Seonamsa Templestay: Etiquette basics

In our Templestay orientation, we were reminded of some of the etiquette basics (with those pertaining to eating being revealed in the dining hall). There were more, but the decorative nature of the temple hall interior commanded my attention. Here are some of them:

  • Practice Noble Silence. In areas where the Buddha is enshrined, refrain from idle talk; instead, use the time for introspection.
  • Sit in designated areas in the temple and follow the signals of the moktak (wooden handbell)
  • Always take off your shoes before entering buildings. Line them up neatly and carefully.
  • Wear your temple uniform, don't drink or smoke, and no rowdy behavior.
  • Walk in a gentle heel-to-toe style, not shuffling or making noise. Try to keep your hands in a folded  "namaste-style" gesture up by your chest.
  •  When passing someone, smile and perform a hapjang half-bow; do the same when passing by or entering a room with a Buddha statue in it.
  • When eating, try to maintain silence and eat quickly. Don't slurp or make noises with your utensils. Give thanks for your food, placing the bowl up by your eyebrows. Don't complain about your food and avoid waste.
  • Actively participate in communal work.
  • Don't bother others in the rest areas.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Seonamsa Templestay: Daeungjeon

Located in back of the main courtyard, the temple building Daeungjeon was where we would be given some basics of temple etiquette. Typical of most Korean Buddhist temples I'd visited, the wooden shuttered windows and doors were painted in green and framed in a terra-cotta color.

Through the front opening, the large golden Buddha figure and altar was straight ahead. Most of the murals and decorations on the exterior had faded away, coloration faintly visible in some areas and others such as the dragons on either side of the main sign in Chinese lettering revealing the original wood coloring.

Two moktaks (wooden handbells) and a metal handbell were carefully arranged on a small table in front of the main altar. On each side of the large seated Buddha statue were silk lotus floral arrangements. A large mural framed the area behind the statue.

The ceiling of the temple was transformed into a play area for several dragons. Their long, snake-like bodies formed from upper beams slithered towards the Buddha. The heads, with bulging eyes, furrowed brows, and open mouths (revealing the ball inside), appeared to be looking right at the rather impervious-looking Buddha. Their ornamental tails protruded from another wall. Although also suffering from some fading and damage, the interior ceiling and wall decorations were in much better state of preservation than those on the outside. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Seonamsa Templestay - arrival

The highlight, and certainly most unusual part of my spring break, was the templestay at Seonamsa Temple. Located in the Jogyesan Mountain near Suncheon, the name Seonam means Heavenly Rock. According to a legend, a heavenly being once played a game of Go on the location. Origins of the temple are uncertain, but it is thought that the temple was built during the Unified Silla Period (676-935) or during the Three Kingdoms Period (57 BC-AD 676).
Melissa in front of the Daeungjeon main hall at Seonamsa
The bus took us partway through the road leading to the temple complex, leaving us to walk the rest of the way that spring afternoon. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a taller monk who would be our guide during our stay. Each person was given a matching set of brown quilted baggy pants and vest, which, along with rubber slip-off shoes, would be our uniform. Posted was the schedule for our temple stay. Immediately comments were made about the 3:30 session the following morning, questioning the monk if that was correct. His smile said it all. After dropping off our backpacks in the room (four designated visitors in each) and changing into the uniforms, we were asked to meet back in the Main Hall.
Templestay schedule

Courtyard surrounding the rooms where visitors stay, four per small (ondol-heated) rooms

Monday, March 24, 2014

March 24, 2014: An Anniversary

March 24, 2014 was a beautiful spring day in my life. The warmth of the spring sun invited early blossoming and birds to sing. On that day, I was in Seoul, South Korea, enjoying my first day of spring break. For residents of a place I called home for four years, the day was a reminder, not of rebirth and renewal, but of the start of events that forever changed their lives. March 24, 2014 was the 15th anniversary of the NATO bombing campaign in Serbia. For 78 days, bombs and missiles fell in Serbia as well as Montenegro, particularly in the Serbian capital of Belgrade.
Even when I was there from 2005-2008, reminders of the bombing were very prominent. On the same street with so many embassies (including the US Embassy), were these bombed-out shells, remnants of what used to be governmental buildings. Graffiti covered remnants of a former TV station where young people senselessly lost their lives. Far from being a clean-cut attack on the government, the citizens were profoundly affected. Over 2,000 civilians lost their lives, including 88 children. My colleagues who lived through the bombing described giving birth without electricity (one maternity hospital was actually bombed), the piercing noise of the missiles whizzing by and then lighting up the sky, seeking shelter during the raids and then observing the damage the following day, and much more. One friend, an excellent photographer and blogger, wrote a book from her perspective and experiences. She also talked about the everyday hardships, such as food and petrol shortages, wondering if the bridge would be there to get to school, how the International School of Belgrade dwindled down to a few students and teachers during that time, how a chemicals from a bombed factory in a nearby town flowed into the river, poisoning all the fish, and so much more. Through talking with her and others, it was powerful reminder of bias - the news media, government, etc. There is always more of the story we don't hear, and perspectives that are not shared - either by choice or neglect.

Below is a documentary of the bombing campaign which seeks to tell the story from some people with direct experiences. Not collateral damage or terrible accidents, but tragic events that forever changed their lives. When watching TV reports (or reading on Flipboard) of news events such as what is currently happening in places such as Syria, let us remember the human side of the events.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Korean Traditional Dance: Buchaechum

Buchaechum (Fan Dance)
Known as the Fan Dance, Buchaechum is perhaps the most famous of Korean dances. This beautiful dance utilizes large fans, forming patterns such as a sea wave, butterflies, mountains, and a flower in full bloom. Originally part of a shamanistic nature rite, it has evolved into a highly refined national dance. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Traditional Korean Dance: Kanggang-Suwollae

Kanggang-Suwollae, meaning Moon Dance, traditionally took place on the full moon of the first and eighth lunar months. At this time, women, wearing a blouse & skirt and hair tied back with ribbons, gathered in the field and joined hands to sing and dance. Performed only by women, the dance sought to bring about a good harvest. The dance begins rather slowly incorporating a solo call and choral response,  but the pace quickens to a whirlwind pace at the end.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

First Signs of Spring: Violets

What a beautiful day in Seoul for a walk. Such temperatures might help coax rather dormant-looking trees and ground to bear forth blooms and blossoms. These violets are the first flowers I've spotted this spring. Can't wait for more!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Traditional Korean Dance: Gaseum ei pin ggok

Gaseum e pin ggok (A Flower bloomed in your heart)
This information comes from the handout received at the dance performance. 
Movements in this dance are meant to imitate flower petals fluttering through the air. In the performance I witnessed, it was danced as a solo. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Traditional Korean Dance: Samgo-Mu

Samgo-Mu (Three Drums)
A very energetic dance, it is a popular crowd-pleasing performance. The three drums are arranged in a way that the drummer can hit all of them while dancing. I've seen this dance several times, and enjoyed seeing the syncopation and flexibility of the drummers as they bend backwards to hit the drum in back. In Sangmo-Mu, the beat gets progressively faster and stronger as it reaches the end of the song. Despite the graceful costumes, these performers show their strength and percussive oomph. This court dance originated in the Goryeo Dynasty and celebrates victory.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Traditional Korean Dance - Gakshi

Gakshi (or Gaksi?)
Danced as a duet, Gakshi is a reminiscent of a traditional puppet dance. Interactive movements are performed to the cheery and rather fast-paced music.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Traditional Korean Dance - Geommu

In the next few posts, I'll feature some different types of traditional Korean dances I've seen. 
Geommu (Knife Dance)
Performed with a short, dull sword, Geommu is a militaristic, but graceful traditional Korean dance. The costume, particularly the sleeves, is to be in harmony with the dancer. Traditional Geommu hanbok costumes are blue, black, red, yellow, and green. Although the legend seems to originate around 660AD with a boy performing his beautiful sword dancing in front of the court, this court dance typically is performed by 6-8 females.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Yearning for Spring

Now that it's March, I anticipate the coming of spring with not-so-patient anticipation. On my walk, I scanned for signs of spring. A few small green plants starting to peek up through the fallen leaves, but mostly the ground and trees look brown and bare. How much more beautiful the scene from this pavilion would have been with some spring blossoms. Guess I'll have to wait several more weeks yet for any action.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Part of the Korean Walking Gear

Walking and hiking is a favorite past time for Koreans. I love to see people of all ages out in the nature around Seoul for their health, and not just sitting in the many coffee shops. In addition to the prerequisite special hiking jackets, walking sticks, back packs, and hiking shoes, many Koreans have added another item to their walking gear - the dust mask. For most of this past week at school, recess was canceled, due to high levels of dust and pollution in the air. During the few recess times the kids were able to get out, pint-sized masks donned a number of their faces. China had another terrible week of unbreathable air, and some of this comes on down to Korea.

Pollution is everyone's problem.

I also checked the air quality prior to going on my morning walk. Some hikers were wearing their masks, while this woman carried hers as she ascended up the gentle slopes of Amnsan mountain.