Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Lingyin Temple, Hangzhou

 Prior to going to the USA for summer, I stopped in China for 10 days. My first destination was Hangzhou, capital of the Zhejiang province and about a 50 min high-speed train from Shanghai. About 1 h 45 minute's flight from Seoul, it was a rather short flight to visit my cousin who was teaching in this scenic city,  capital of the Song Dynasty (1127AD-1276AD).

The following morning after my arrival, my cousin, a US college student, and I took a public bus to the Lingyin Temple. On the way, we traveled past beautiful, lush gardens and parks. Meaning "Temple of the Soul's Retreat," derived from the tranquil, lush surroundings. Built in 326AD, Lingyin is not only one of the oldest temples in Hangzhou, but it is also one of the ten most important Zen Buddhism temples in China. At its peak from 907-960AD, Lingyin Temple had nine buildings, 18 towers, 72 halls, and was served by over 3,000 monks. Although destroyed at least 16 times, the current buildings are restorations of the late Qing dynasty. During the Cultural Revolution, it sustained some damage but thankfully was spared significant destruction by Premier Zhou Enlai.
The temple complex was rather large; some parts were closed off to visitors and others did not permit photography. In future blogs, I will include some interior shots in permitted buildings as well as some architectural details.

Founder, Indian Buddhist Hui Li

The smoke of incense combined with the humid climate and early morning rains. 
An active temple, many monks could be seen
Read more about Lingyin Temple on their official (English) website

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Unhyeongung Palace

Unhyeongung Palace was the last palace in Seoul that remained to be visited. Located right by Insadong, its small size, lack of a fancy main gate, and natural colors would make it very easy to pass by without realizing it was a palace. It was constructed in 1864, the first year of Emperor Gojong's reign. Two gates were erected for Gojong and is father Regent Heungseon to easily go between there and Changdeokgung Palace, but they no longer remain. Additional buildings were added for conducting of state affairs, with the formal layout and size exuding the feel of an inner palace. Its triple-fold windows, wood floored storage spaces, and sunscreen eaves are more typical of a palace than the home of a wealthy individual. The buildings also have ondol Korean floor heating systems. After the Korean War, a large part of the property was sold.

Unhyeongung is very easy to get to - just a stone's throw away from exit 4 of Anguk Station, Subway line 3. Admission is free. Twice a year the Royal Wedding Ceremony reenactment is held here.

Right behind the palace is Unhyeongung Yanggwan, a French Renaissance style house built for Heungseon's grandson.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Presenting the Wedding Duck

No traditional Korean wedding ceremony would be without a pair of ducks (or geese). Knowing that ducks mate for life, a wedding couple would be presented with a carved set. Traditionally, the ducks would be carved by an honorable friend who would carry out the task without payment and pass his fortune (wealth, health, good wife, many sons, and divorce-free family) to the new couple through the gift. These "five fortunes" attributes were more important than the carving skill of the man. Wedding ducks are comprised of two parts - the head/neck and body. The bill of the female is sometimes tied with red thread, symbolizing the Confucian belief that a wife must obey their husband. Above we see the male duck being presented, wrapped in a bojagi called a gireogibo which has embroidered symbols of happiness on the top.

The day prior to the wedding ceremony, the groom went to the bride's home to meet the parents. He presented the duck to the family as a token of his lifelong loyalty to their daughter. The mother of the bride would place it on the bed chamber for the next day; if it stayed upright, it meant that the firstborn would be a boy. Even after marriage, the position of the ducks were symbolic; if facing bill-to-bill, it signified that all was well. If tails faced each other, discord might be amiss.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Royal Maedeup

During the Korean Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), artists who were able to form beautiful knots known as Maedeup were highly sought after. Finished pieces comprising of a cord (dahoe), knot (maedeup), tassel (sul), and an ornament would then be used to adorn royal portraits, seals, palanquins, and biers. 
In these photos, we can see the maedeup that adorn the small palanquin designed to carry the gifts for the royal wedding, which is reenacted twice a year.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Art of Maedeup, Korean Ornamental Knotwork

Mrs. Young Ae Lee twists and crosses strings to make the dahoe (cord)
After attending a Royal Wedding ceremony reenactment at the Unhyeongung Palace in Seoul, I stopped for a few minutes in one of the buildings which had an exhibit. Here I met Mrs. Young Ae Lee who is a master of maedeup, an ornamental knotwork of Korea. Literally meaning "knot" in Korean, maedeup utilizes one type of fiber and its finished piece is both symmetrical from side to side and the same on both back and front.
A type of maedeup is a norigae, which comprises of the knotwork, tassle, and ornament. The ornament may be made from precious metals or stones, such as gold, silver, bronze, jade, amber, coral, pearl, or malachite. One's status or importance could traditionally be ascertained according to the size, shape, materials and colors of their norigae. Although natural-dyed silk was used for more expensive pieces, even simpler pieces could be enhanced through embroidery. Norigae are often attached to the jacket of a hanbok, the traditional dress of Korea. Typical of many forms of Korean art, nature was a popular theme. Knots, for example, were made in the forms such as lotus buds, plum blossoms, chrysanthemums, butterflies, bees, and dragonflies. Ornaments included animals such as the bat or tortoise, as well as butterflies, plants (i.e. grapes, peonies), or household objects (i.e. gourds, drums, locks, bells). Symbolism was attached to these ornaments, such as a pepper for a prosperous marriage, a peach for longevity, or tiger claws to repel evil spirits.

Although Mrs. Lee originally learned to do maedeup from her family, she has also refined the craft by incorporating aspects discerned in historical research. Hoping to keep the craft alive (fewer people are learning the skill), Mrs. Lee regularly exhibits her work and teaches others. For others continuing the craft, demand is mostly limited into either high art or for accessories. Future generations may likely need to adapt further in order to survive.

When seeing Mrs. Lee at her maedeup instrument machine, it reminded me of the traditional lace-making I saw in Bruges. To the untrained eye, it looked like haphazard twisting of spools of thread. I hope to revisit this art form at a later time when I have a bit more time and can see more of the design emerge.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Amidst the Terraced Fields of Daraengi Village

In addition to relaxing by the beach and eating grilled beef at the Namhae Garlic Festival, we also took a few short tours. My favorite destination was Daraengi Village. 

This village is known for its beautiful terraced fields of rice and garlic. Men and women were busy in the fields, cutting and bagging the ripe garlic.

I wish we would have had more time to meander through the sloped paths and stairways of this village. It would also be a great place to revisit at different seasons or sunset.

This photo is for my Dad, who will always be a farmer at heart.

Bagging up the freshly harvested garlic

Monday, June 15, 2015

Beach Time in Namhae

Although I spotted a few brave souls in the water (actually, a few more who were thrown in by their friends), Namhae beach was a popular place to be. Making sandcastles or mounded snacks, spotting crabs, flying kites, or simply relaxing by the beach were ways people amused themselves on this extended weekend. At night, firecrackers, soju, beer, and s'mores were popular. I enjoyed seeing some non-Americans toast marshmallows and sandwich them between graham crackers for the first time.

Most Koreans tended to be shaded under an umbrella, while some foreigners chose the lobster method. I enjoyed seeing parents - especially otherwise busy dads - take time out to spend with their kids.

Here's even one of me with a friend.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Nahmae Island, Hindenburg-style

As part of the Namhae Treasure Island Garlic Festival, we participated in its lantern release. The large one was still made out of mulberry hanji paper supported by a wire frame, but foreigners at the festival were given white balloons illuminated by a LED light - eliminating fire hazard. When the officials lit the main lantern, we were asked to release our balloon.   

Although it wasn't quite as picturesque as traditional sky lanterns would be, the balloons still made a pretty sight.

 All eyes were on the large lantern, as it floated into the sapphire night sky. 
Moments later, the lantern exploded in a ball of flames and its skeleton descended back to earth, reminding me of the Hindenburg.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Garlic Sculptures at Namhae Garlic Festival

My favorite part of the Namhae Island Garlic Festival was inside one the main exhibit hall. Here we saw sculptures decorated with different parts of garlic. "Frozen" was featured in several entries. Other animated characters also received attention, such as Iron Man and Popeye. More traditional Korean themes such as Admiral Yi, the famed turtle ships, and the country's traditional hanbok clothing were some other subjects cleverly portrayed. Which is your favorite?

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Namhae Garlic and Hanwoo Beef Festival 2015

As part of our meetup group's trip to Namhae Island, we went to the 10th annual Treasure Island Garlic Festival. Indeed, garlic was big on the minds of most Namhae residents, as their major crop on terraced fields was being harvested. After spending several leisure hours on the beach of the island, it was a very unique outing.

This year's festival was held in conjunction with a Hanwoo (Beef) promotion. Our extended weekend trip included the cost of a grilled barbecue at the festival. We lined up at the window of the barbecue station where each pair of participants received a shrink-wrapped styrofoam tray of thinly sliced raw beef. Drinks and a tray of veggies was extra, but quite affordable. One of our table members became the honorary barbecue meister, grilling the beef, garlic, and a few veggies. Using chopsticks, we picked up the beef pieces that were done to our liking and wrapped them in a lettuce leaf with desired veggies. Yummy.

Lanterns here came in the shape of garlic, reflected on the pond. For a fee, one could paddle a raft across the small pond.
Inside the expo hall, prize garlic was neatly arranged. One could also buy garlic in various forms of consumption as well as medicinal. 

I've been to quite a few festivals in Korea; this was definitely one of the most unusual ones I've attended.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Dawn Emergeth at Boriam Temple

We arrived at Boriam Temple as the shroud of nightfall was lifting.
With the overcast sky now apparent, I had my doubts about the possibility of a sunrise. Irregardless, I was determined to capture a bit of the scenic beauty of the temple set dramatically on Geumsan Mountain.

The warm glow of a fire contrasted against the cool blue of dawn. The Gwanseeum-bosal statue was surrounded by a rainbow canopy of lanterns. A three-story stone pagoda (intangible cultural asset #74) likely dating from the Goryeo period shared the space.

One of three noted "praying temples" in South Korea, Boriam Temple originally dates back to 683 AD.