January 3, 2010
SoKor Day 24: Temple Sunrise and Changdeokgung Palace
The overarching idea I get from hanging out with Buddhist Monks for 24 hours? No internet and cell phones means you can focus on nature. Also, what a busy, focused, planned schedule for prayers and meditation! One thing I was actually a bit surprised about is how our introduction to the lifestyle of the Monks gave an impression of a very individualistic philosophy. I was surprised how much time the Monks spent in (individual) meditation and prayers. You were in a room with other people, but the focus is very internal during those meditation sessions. The Sunim spoke about your "inner Buddha", you "inner teacher" and "finding understanding within yourself." I thought this was fascinating and at the same time very different from what I know well in Judiasm, where spiritualism often involves a lot of intellectual arguments, logical thoughts, the sort of "pursuit of knowledge" in a group or community setting. There seemed to be free community lectures once per week by the Monks, but I was surprised there weren't more study sessions or discussion sessions between the monks. There seemed to be a lot of personal reflection time, and this was both interesting and was very different than my history of Jewish quests for knowledge which are often based in a group, with many people talking (often, all at once) ;)
By 3:15 I was in the meditation room, and I was surprisingly awake. I think going to bed at 9:30pm the night before was super necessary otherwise it would have been really tough not to fall asleep in the Meditation room :) This was a "long meditation" and the Sunim told us that we could stand up behind our mats with our hands together when our knees hurt from sitting cross-legged. The Lotus Position is hard!! I had a pretty good cross-legged position for a bit, but it was tough and I had to resort to the stand-up and hands-together position a few times. At one point we were supposed to do 108 bows (36 sets x 3 bows), but I only got to about 14 x 3 :) It was a very interesting experience.
After meditation we headed to the chanting room, and listened to some gong and chanting by the monks. I took a short break to grab my camera and take some photos and video of the lanterns outside in the dark before the sun came up. The moon was very clear and bright and it was very beautiful outside - it was quite cold outside but I am really glad I took some extra time to take the photos. After that it was right to breakfast! I handed out my business cards to our new friends there so they could keep in touch if they wanted to. Then, more meditation! But first we had a discussion with our Sunim of more Zen ideas. He related the Zen ideas to Christianity (for the majority of the crowd who were Westerners). We then went back to the meditation room and did more meditation there, as well as 15-minute "walking meditation" sessions which we did between the sitting sessions. That one was great, because you got to shake out the sore knees!! This session was incredibly long... 2.5 HOURS!! This was a combination of 3 meditation sessions together, and Sunim asked us to go to "at least 1 of them". We kept reading our "Koan" story on a piece of paper in front of us, and thinking about it. The story mentioned a mountain called "Mt. Sumeru" and our Sunim said it with a funny accent: "Mount SU-mehhr-uuuuu!"
We finished up at the Temple and collected our bags and headed out about 9:30am-ish. We jumped back on the bus into Seoul and said farewell to Liz, who was heading back to her place. That was awesome to hang out with Liz, and old friend from all the way back in Elementary School, and to see her place and some of the things she liked to do in Seoul. The Temple was a brilliant idea and it was so easy to get to from Liz's place, it worked out so well. Liz also had an awesome suggestion for the evening that I was planning to do once Lisa headed home. Then I subwayed to my stop with Lisa and dropped off all my bags in Bukchon Hanok Village near Insadong, where I was staying for that night. The dude at the desk was super helpful and it was a really nice hostel/traditional lodging area. Very cool. Liz had earlier mentioned that there was a huge Andy Warhol exhibit at the Seoul Museum of Art, and I was definitely keen to check that out in the evening.
Lisa and I then wandered through the Insadong markets to check out souvenier shops. There were a lot of cool table mats combined with chopsticks and wooden spoons, they looked really awesome. I also saw some awesome desk lamps with what looked like origami flowers to hold the bulbs. After some wandering, we found an Indian Food place!!! Lisa said she'd been there before and it was really good, so I was keen to try it out. It was excellent and similar in some ways to an Indian Food place in the USA, and totally different in other ways. It was a chilly day so on arrival they didn't give us tea, they have us hot water!! In a tumbler glass!!! Haha I thought that was so hilarious for some reason. The also had that crazy floor toilet that you see sometimes in Japan too. It's a normal flush toilet, it's just, well, on the floor, rather than an actual seat. Apparently that is more sanitary? Haha, anyway I decided I could probably hold on till later. haha. Anyway, the food was great and they had a Kiwi Lassi too which was very good.
We finished up at lunch and wandered the Insadong markets some more. I saw a Hello Kitty in a Geisha costume, which was hilarious, but wasn't exactly Korean so I didn't buy it (should have, though!) :) We then found those amazing Ho-dok cinnamon pancakes!! Those are SO GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!! After the delicious dessert glory we jumped on the Subway and headed back to Youngsan station to drop off Lisa. We went to iPark City, an electronics megastore that was kinda like Akihabara. There was a New Balance Store!!! We ran there (no pun intended) and they had Rainbow Running!!! The famed shoe I'd been looking for over the past few weeks! But, they only had it in one size (7.5)!!! Darn it!! Haha, I think I was just not meant to get those shoes. :) Lisa said, "Oh, those are the shoes??!" So maybe it's for the best, I think Lisa thought they were super ugly (and they are, kinda) - so after another failed attempt to get a pair of insane Rainbow Running shoes, I think I officially gave up the search after getting some sound fashion advice from a member of the fairer gender! I said goodbye to Lisa and thanked her for her kind hospitality and everything. It was great to travel with an old friend for the last few days and it was fun to see her life there in Korea. Good times.
And with that, I took off back to my neighbourhood for the evening, Bukchon Hanok Village. It was my last day in Korea so I wanted to max out on awesome. My pamphlet on the museum said it closed a bit later than the Palace, so I went to the Palace first. I got to the Palace and found out you could only go inside during a guided tour, you couldn't "self-tour", and the next English tour was 40 min away - did I have time?! Should I give up on the Palace tour and just go to the museum (closes at 6?!) Hmm... what to do? I know! I found a payphone and called the Museum and just my luck - they had special holiday hours for New Years and were open till 9pm. YES!! So I decided to stay at the Palace and it was a great choice.
I met some Canadians from Northern Ontario and Toronto and they were super nice. We chatted in the cafeteria there and I bought some Persimmon Punch! It was weird but fun to try for sure. Then we all took off on the long guided tour through the Palace. It was very interesting, we learned about the history of the Palace and I took a bazillion photos. One section of the buildings had a sort of "ondol" flooring run by a fire that you could light under the floors, an old-style version of the modern-day electric heated floors!
Then, back to the hostel. I dropped off all my stuff and took off to the museum. It was SO AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!! What a day. It was 3 floors of Andy Warhol's work: Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, Campbell's Soup Cans, Mick Jagger, random Warhol quotes, Magazine covers, some weird avant-garde movie and lots of self-portraits. It was a really great exhibit and it was such a surprise that it was in town and I could squeeze in a visit to it before heading back. So awesome. I got a book from the exhibit, a poster and poster roll (how will I fit that into my backpack?!) and they gave me a free calendar in a fancy box (how will I fit that into my bag?!!!).
At that point it was getting quite late and I'd been running around all day exploring so it was dark outside and time for dinner. I didn't see much open around that area so I caved in and went to an Outback Steakhouse - it's actually kindof fun to do that once in a while in a foreign country and note the small differences and how the country portrays an iconic American chain. (I guess it was fitting that I went there after visiting an Andy Warhol exhibit?!) It was really tasty and I cheers'd myself to a great trip - a huge success all around.
Then back to the hostel and a relax for 15 min, and back out to Insadong market for souveniers!!!!! Can't stop! Won't stop! Most shops were unfortunately already closed by the time I got there, but I did manage to get some chopstick sets that I knew my Mom and Sister would love and some cool scroll artwork for myself. I was going to get another Ho-dok but their booth was closed. I did walk by a food cart selling those super disgusting boiling silk worm things (so gross!!), it's weird how popular that "food" item seems to be?! Then a bit more checking out of some stores and wandering through Insadong and back to Bukchon Hanok Village.
I had internet at the hostel so I could Skype-chat which was awesome and nice and relaxing. I chatted a bit with Mom and Dad and checked email and stuff. After such a long and over-stimulating day, I chilled out in my room watching some extracurricular English language lessons on TV which was pretty amusing, and went to sleep after a busy day.
Tomorrow I head back to Japan!
Amazing images, so glad I warmed up my camera at 4:45am!
I loved these lanterns!
(This caption copied from previous video post of these lanterns)
This was absolutely amazing. It was 4:45am at an overnight TempleStay at the Hwagaesa Buddhist Temple, north of Seoul, South Korea. I had just gotten up at 3am to join in some meditation with the Monks and the Zen Master of the International Zen Center!! It was an experience, indeed. After the meditation and listening to the Monks do their chanting, I grabbed my camera and took some photos outside in the cold air before a nice warm breakfast.
The moon and the temple
Lanterns from outside the temple
The very early start to the day
I was very awake for getting up at 3 in the morning! Must have been inspired by the lanterns and the awesome Monks.
Posing for a photo outside with my friends Lisa and Liz, and Zen Master Sunim of the International Zen Center.
The moon is still hangin' out
Buying a few souvenirs before heading back on the bus to Seoul
Mom, this photo is for you
Hot Water in tumbler glasses at lunchtime! Haha, hot water?!!!
Awesome Indian restaurant in Insadong
This was SO GOOD
Cool lanterns you could buy in Insadong market
View of Seoul
At the iPark mall
Headed back near my hostel in the Bukchon Hanok Village, and walked to the palace area. Donhwamun, the entrance to Changdeokgung Palace.
Roofs in Daejojeon
Royal Library and Secret Garden pond
Secret Garden Pond
More amazing architecture
Older palace area called Nakseonjae near the end of the tour. There were an older form of ondol (heated) floor in these, kinda like in my hostel room!
The sun going down and making a crazy looking trail
At the Andy Warhol exhibit
"I'm a Banana!"
And for dinner on the last night in Korea? Steak at Outback Steakhouse!! I ended up having dinner so late that I ended up getting something not-too-Korean, but it was super fun.
Wandering through Insadong Market to buy a few last souveniers
Cool little trinket boxes
Back at my hostel in the Bukchon Hanok Village!