Cheers to Buddha, Children and Days Off

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Tongdosa, nestled in the Yangsan mountains.

When we were little, my sister and I used to ask our mom why there wasn’t a “Children’s Day.” Mothers and fathers and grandparents all had their own holiday; it only seemed fair that children should get one as well. But (being lucky enough kids) Mom would always reply, “Every day is Children’s Day.” Little did I know, Children’s Day is actually celebrated in many countries in the world, including South Korea.

The way it’s celebrated in Korea is parents give their kids a present, and the government gives everyone a day off of work. Woo! A few friends and I decided to spend the responsibility-free, beautiful spring day at the the nearby Tongdosa for some hiking, exploring, and good beer drinking.

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Children’s Day also happened to be five days before Buddha’s Birthday, and Tongdosa – being a Buddhist temple – was all decked out in paper lanterns in celebration.

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Pretty pink lotus lanterns.

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Some special Buddha’s Birthday lanterns. Buddha’s never looked so cute.

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A lot of the lanterns had pictures on them. This guy seems to have a question.

Of the many temples I’ve visited in Korea, Tongdosa is one of my favorites. There’s something about the dustiness and wooden buildings that reminds me of an American western. Maybe that’s just me…but I like it.

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The ceiling of the main gates is particularly impressive:
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An elephant and tiger! There should be more ceilings like this.

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A bunch of onggi pots. Do you think they’re all full of kimchi?

The area around Tongdosa is rather pretty.
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We decided to hike up around the hills around the temple.

And so we embarked on a bit of an adventure:

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This is a bridge. It’s the coolest. Our adventure started here.

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The last time we were at Tongdosa, we remembered taking a very step and precarious route up this hill, after which we discovered a set up steps leading up. This time, we opted for the stairs.

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Not long into our hike we stopped for lunch: two triangle kimbaps (sweet minced beef and tuna kimchi) and a free Pepsi next, which I discovered tastes like bubbly Splenda-water.

We hiked for quite a while – up a hill overlooking Tongdosa, down the hill and onto a road. Across the road, up another hill, and back down onto the road. Then up one more hill in what we deemed was the most interesting direction…

…where we decided we had reached the end of our hike:

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Those white buildings in the distance is Tongdo, where we started. They looked quite far away and made us feel rather accomplished, so we decided it was about time to turn back and find that microbrewery.

But taking a different route down from the mountain, we came across more paper lanterns…
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(According to my limited Korean ability, this rock says “death people rock.” Hmmm.)

…that led us to another temple.
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Nestled quietly into the hillside behind a small pond, surrounded by beautiful flowers and trees, it was like we had stumbled onto Narnia. Or at least, it was a nice contrast to the crowds at Tongdosa.

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Imagine: no sound except a small breeze gently passing through some wind chimes overhead, the hat swaying back and forth with the wind. So peaceful. I felt I could’ve have stood there for hours.

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Getting back to Tongdosa turned out to be just a quick walk down the road back towards town, making our hike seem entirely un-epic. But it’s good to know that just down the road past Tongdosa are some quieter, less crowded temples – I’m sure I’ll be back for another visit.

Back at Tongdosa, we bought some ice cream, were given paper lanterns from some monks, and saw an ajumma in a sparkly dress performing some disco-y old Korean pop.


And finally, it was time for beer!

The last time I was in Tongdo, back in October, I was taken to a microbrewery way back in the hills somewhere, and was pretty determined to find it again. Luckily, there isn’t a whole lot out in Tongdo and between the memory of me and one of my friends we were able to find our way there pretty easily. The place seemed to have changed ownership, as their giant red light-up sign had been replaced by this little ginger guy. Apparently this restaurant has some very fancy ginger, which was offered on the menu, fried, for a pricey 100,000 won. 진짜??

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A quick note about this microbrewery: It’s mostly a Korean restaurant, that happens to brew its own beer. And it certainly has a different vibe than what I’d expect a “microbrewery” back home to be like. While we were there, another couple of foreigners came by and seemed incredibly disappointed by the lack of microbrewery-ness. So just thought I’d clarify.

The women working there seemed very accustomed to foreigners coming by looking for beer, and quickly seated us outside with a beer for each of us before we could even get out our elementary Korean. They only brew one kind of beer: it’s on the light side, and I’m no connoisseur but to me it’s like the bitterness of a pilsner meets a bit of the fruitiness of a heffeweisen. Not usually my favorite kind of beer (I generally prefer the stouts or the reds) but after 8 months of nothing but Hite/Cass/Max/the occasional Budweiser, it tastes nothing short of absolutely wonderful.

In addition to serving this oh-so-hard-to-come-by-in-Korea delicious beer, the place has some nice outdoor picnic table seating in a beautiful garden full of flowers. And a tree swing! The inside decor reminds me a bit of a northern Michigan ski-lodge meets 70’s cruise ship. Which is a bit odd, but irrelevant because the outside is so nice.

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Should anyone stumble across this post in trying to find the microbrewry in Tongdosa, and/or so I can find it again in the future, this is how to get to the brewery from the temple:

Come out of the temple and make a left, cross the gravel parking lot, and pass Tongdo Fantasia. Keep walking past some farm fields, towards the houses in the distance.

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(What an odd place for an amusement park, in the middle of all these fields…)


Once you’re on the other side of the fields, make a right on the next street.

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Follow the street alllll the way up the hill, and take a right at the dead-end. You’ll start to see signs for a ginger restaurant. This is the “microbrewery”.

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I’m glad Tongdosa is so easy to get to from Ulsan, it’s a nice place to escape the crowdedness of the city for some peace and quiet. The microbrewery, beautiful temples and hiking make Tongdo one of my favorite spots in Ulsan.

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The rather unfortunate relics of Park Je Sang, and a German-Korean temple

I haven’t posted about teaching for a long time, and in that time an entire new school year started, way back in March! This ‘year’ I’m counted as a sixth grade teacher, which means I get to accompany the sixth graders on all their field trips.

The entrance to the "Relics of Park Je Sang"

Last week was our first field trip: the class picnic. It was out in the countryside, near the ‘Relics of Park Jesang.’ A 40 minute bus-ride from Samil Elementary took us well out of the city and into the boonies of Ulsan.

Overlooking a traditional Korean village

This is the story of Park JeSang:

Park was a loyal officer of the Silla dynasty, sometime around 417~458. The King’s two brothers had been taken hostage by the Japanese, and Park was sent to retrieve them. He managed to rescue the two princes, but was captured himself.

Life at a traditional Korean village

The Japanese tried to get him to switch sides, but Park’s loyalty could not be swayed, and eventually they burned him alive. Back in Korea, Park’s wife waited and waited for her husband to return, grieving so much she apparently “wailed herself to death” and turned into a stone. After her body became a stone, her and her daughters’ spirits turned into birds and flew away and hid behind a rock.

A stone monument of the wife that turned to stone
Looking through the memorial at a stone statue of the wife that turned to stone.

…I wasn’t a big fan of the story. A wife’s devotion to her husband, so strong that she can’t live her own life, do anything herself without him…blah! Perhaps you’re thinking it’s more ‘Romeo and Juliet’ than that, and she just couldn’t imagine a life without her soul mate. But considering the legend later inspired an on-site Confucian academy, and every year the town throws a Park JeSang festival to “develop the mind of loyal, justice, devotion and chastity to the local residents,” I really don’t see the romance. To me it’s rather insulting that this woman had two daughters, yet couldn’t stop weeping and would rather petrify away than raise them. Yeah yeah yeah, it’s just a story, but I really don’t like the way her inability to do anything after the death of her husband is celebrated like some great act of devotion. Boo!

I was very interested to get my co-teacher’s opinion on the matter, but didn’t want to come across as outright insulting this Ulsan legend. Such subtlety is difficult to communicate across language barriers, and eventually it got kind of confusing and I just kind of dropped it. Ah, well.

The entrance of the sixth graders

But anyways, my sixth graders are awesome this year. Which is great, because last year’s sixth graders were absolute hellions that I absolutely dreaded teaching every week. I guess it’s still the start of the school year, so there’s plenty of time for them to turn into little monsters. But look at how cute they are now!

I liked this girl's shirt
I wanted to get a picture of this girl’s shirt. “I guess it’s better to be who you are.”

The Vice Principal shows off his jaegi skills
This is the new vice principal, showing off his ‘jaegi’ skills. The students made these little hackey-sack type things, and spent half the day just running around playing with them. Someone planned that brilliantly. They’re just tissue paper and washers, but the materials balance each other out so they kind of float in the air a bit and they’re really fun to try to kick around.

I completely lack any jaegi skills
Unfortunately my jaegi skills are rather non-existent. I did manage to make off with one of my own though, and am planning to practice and redeem myself at the next sixth grade outing.

Taking out the tour guide
Some of my faves (not that I choose favorites…), ‘listening’ to the tour guide.

Sixth graders

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The best thing about these field trips is that I have absolutely no responsibilities while I’m there: the homeroom teachers have to look after all their kids, so I’m just kind of along for the ride. Which meant my co-teacher and I got to go off and do some exploring on our own, and we found our way to a small Buddhist temple.

Soo owang Temple

We were the only people around, except for a woman tending to the grounds. Who seemed rather pleased to see me, because apparently the temple had a German monk. She invited us into the temple, which was more like a house inside. She sat us around a table on the floor and introduced us to monk Klaus Gerd Kamps. He had moved to Korea several years before, after studying Buddhism in Seoul and later marrying a Korean woman. He and his wife – also a monk – had built the temple themselves, after tons of grief from immigration (who didn’t take to a foreigner being a monk, or wanting to open his own business in Korea). I haven’t been able to actually really talk to any monks here due to language barriers, and I was really excited to get to ask questions about monk life and the temple and everything. Things I learned: monks can drink, and smoke, and go to pubs or whatever they please. They can also eat meat, or not (“how can I survive without my meat?”). And have to get a special certification to be considered a monk by the government. Which certainly isn’t special in Korea, because it seems everyone needs a certification to do anything here. But it’s kind of comforting to know they won’t let just anyone open a temple.

The temple itself was small but very beautiful, and unique for a Korean temple.

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This Buddha statue faces all four directions.

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Apparently these guys are in their winter ‘seasonal wear’ with the beanies. Ha.

Buddha under the Bodhi Tree
Buddha under the Bodhi Tree

A Chinese Dragon
Do you know how to tell a Chinese dragon from a Korean dragon? Chinese dragons have four talons; Korean dragons only have three. Now you know.

Apparently temples in Korea are painted with a special stone paint, which is a process very, very few people can do. So there’s a long wait to get any temple painting done, and then the painters can take as long as they want, because they’re the only ones who can do the job. The paint is supposed to last for hundreds of years!

It was so nice and peaceful to hear nothing but the small fountain and wind through the trees for a while – a nice break from 130 screaming 6th graders!

My co-teacher and I ended the day at a nearby ‘fermented foods’ eatery, sharing a bottle of makkoli (Korean rice wine) and seasoned dropwort, just out of view of the students. I know, some days I have it ridiculously good over here.

Chisan Seowon

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A note to anyone who stumbles across this page from Ulsan, and/or to myself at a future date should I try to return:

The Relics of Park Jesang are located in Ulju-gun, accessible by the 318 bus from Eonyang, or 802 bus from Seongnam-dong. Ride the bus for approximately forever, and hop out at 박제상유적지. Soo Owang Temple is just down the road from the memorial.

24 Hours in a Buddhist Temple

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There comes a time in many foreigners’ stay in Korea that they decide to do a ‘temple stay’. A popular program widely touted by the government tourist organizations, a temple stay basically allows you to stay overnight at one of the many Buddhist temples sprinkled throughout the country, observing and participating in many aspects of temple life.

Here’s the short version: we chanted (well, listened to chanting), bowed 108 times, meditated, woke up at 4am to do these things, did archery, practiced sunmudo martial arts, drank tea, climbed a mountain, and ate vegan food mindfully, and everyone should try it!

Here’s the long version:

My good friend Paul who lives down the street from me in Ulsan decided to celebrate his birthday with a temple stay. We chose Golgulsa, a temple outside of Gyeongju and not too far from Ulsan, because its famous for a martial art called sunmudo. It’s sort of similar to tai chi, combining martial arts and yoga for meditative purposes.

Coming into the Gyeongju train station, we were greeted by these guys:

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We grabbed some $1 hamburgers in a giant, awesome indoor food market across the street. And then took a rather roundabout way to the temple, which included a 40-minute trek along a two-way highway through the middle of nowhere because we missed our bus stop. We knew we had finally made it when we saw this sign:

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And so with hopes of being able to levitate like that by the end of the weekend, we entered the temple. Just through the main gate we found a big temple stay office, clearly marked in English – this temple definitely gets a lot of tourists. A foreigner came out to greet us and get us checked in. She was from Newfoundland, Canada and had been at the temple for six months, after having taught in Korea for a couple years. She gave us a rundown of the itinerary and our uniform for the next 24-hours, which consisted of some super baggy pants and a kind of awful-colored yellowish vest. We also had to fill out a survey, where my friend Mark wrote his ‘motivation’ for the visit was ‘deification.’ No one seemed to mind…

Our rooms were across the road in a new dormitory building:

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The rooms were very simple, just a big empty floor with plenty of blankets to sleep on (and an internet hook-up and a mini-fridge).

Walking around the temple, I was surprised to find statues of these guys with their ’24-pack’ abs all over the place:

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They seem a bit aggressive and menacing for a Buddhist temple, but I guess Golgulsa is the martial arts temple.

The first activity on our itinerary was archery. I was pretty excited, since I hadn’t fired a bow and arrow since summers at Camp Michigania when I was in middle school. Our archery instruction placed a lot of emphasis on how to breathe. I had never thought of archery as a meditative process, but found concentrating on my breathing really focused my mind and was rather relaxing. While I haven’t retained much of my childhood archery skill, I at least did better than Mark, who managed to hit me with an arrow even though I was standing behind him. At archery I also met my roommate for the evening, a Portuguese exchange student studying business at Korea National University in Seoul.

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I kind of wish I had packed for my visit with the temple uniform in mind. My bright green hooded sweatshirt was not the best match for the outfit, and considering how many pictures I took, I kind of wish I had thought ahead. Not that that goes with the Buddhist mindset of selfessness, but should I ever return I will plan accordingly.

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Next to archery: stone carvings of sunmudo poses. I was hoping we’d get to practice jumping over someone/trees in our training session, but unfortunately they skipped that part.

From archery we thought we were going to have a couple hours of community service, but were given the time off instead. I hear other visitors aren’t so lucky. We went up to the main part of the temple, which was pretty crowded with tourists. It was fun to be wearing our temple clothes amongst all of the Koreans in their trendy, matching hiking outfits.

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We caught the end of one of the temple’s daily Sunmudo performances, which had plenty of dazzling jumps and flying through the air to make us excited for our Sunmudo training later on that evening.

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More muscly statue-dudes and martial arts poses on the side of the main temple building. As far as Buddhist temples go, this one seemed kind of macho.

Other than martial arts, Golgulsa is also famous for a 1500 year-old stone Buddha carving set in the side of a mountain. The trek up to the stone Buddha was a bit perilous, the route so steep at one point you needed the help of a rope ladder. Which made it pretty fun. The path went past several small shrines with small stone Buddhas and other carvings. The Buddha itself was carved about 4 meters above the group, with a small platform in front of it for bowing, and a small sloping ledge to stand on behind that for picture taking, with a rather short fence at the bottom that seemed it would be little help should you happen to stumble backwards.

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Creepy bald children.

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One of the shrines nestled into the rock.

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Why is this guy cleaning his ear?

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Playing it cool in front of the Buddha.

At many temples, meals are eaten in silence to encourage more mindful eating. But at Golgulsa, because we weren’t eating with the monks talking was allowed, although we were still separated by gender for some reason. Meals at the temple are generally all vegan (with the occasional egg), consisting mainly of rice and vegetables. All of the vegetables are grown in the temple, and were probably the best veggies I’ve eaten in Korea. They tell you to take only what you need, and to eat everything you take. You got to serve yourself, so this didn’t seem to be a problem to me. But my roommate didn’t like Korean food, and found it too difficult to finish all of her veggies – yet nothing happened to her when she returned her tray with food on it. This temple seemed to be pretty lenient on their policies, as they get so many tourists visiting for the temple stay program.

After the meal, we had a brief orientation that covered how to bow, our expected behavior during the chanting ceremonies (just follow what everyone else is doing), and what the chants we’d be hearing meant. We very briefly learned a bit about Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. We also got some quick tips on how to do zen meditation (the type of meditation they practice at the temple), which was mainly just to focus on our breathing and count our breaths because you’re not supposed to use visualization or mantras in zen meditation apparently.

We joined up with the Korean part of the temple stay group to watch a Sunmudo video, the most impressive part showing monks hoping up the temple’s steep steps three at a time! The visitors for the weekend were six foreigners (five English teachers and one student) and five Koreans.

We were then joined by a group of monks, and the chanting began. I’ve seen chanting in movies I suppose, but never really in person. I was surprised by how nice and musical it sounded. The second chant sped up quite a bit. One monk kept the rhythm on a giant drum and the bowing was in quick succession, one after another. Even without entirely understanding what was going on, I felt rather absorbed into the rhythm and movement of the chant.

From there we swapped out our bowing cushions for yoga mats to practice sunmudo. The warm-up started with five minutes of meditation but then quickly got rather strenuous, with 10-15 or so reps of a reverse plank-type move and full body crunches, among others. The training was led by a Norwegian sunmudo master who had been practicing for over 14 years. He gave instructions in both Korean and English, which was pretty impressive considering neither were his native language. The training itself was rather difficult, with lots of high kicks and spin kicks that involved trying to balance on one foot in a kicking pose while slowly spinning 360 degrees. Unfortunately we weren’t good enough to make it to jump kicks, and so I’m still unable to levitate like the monk in the picture.

After training I learned that apparently some foreigners’ sunmudo experience has been doing 600 sit-ups, which to me would have been incredibly disappointing (and impossible). I suppose it depends on which of the sunmudo masters teaches your class.

Lights out was at 10pm, which gave us six hours of sleep before waking up at 4am for morning chanting. On the itinerary, it clearly stated that missing morning chanting would be a 3,000 bow punishment. The Norwegian sunmudo master mentioned he had missed morning chanting twice, and doing 3,000 bows takes 9 hours! So we were very careful not to oversleep, and ended up rushing up the mountain to the temple to make it on time.

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Running up this hill at 4:15am in the rain was not very fun.

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Morning chanting.

The temple we were in was rather simple but had several paintings on the side walls depicting weird-looking people with eyes all over their bodies. It was raining slightly, and so joining us in the ceremony were a dog and a puppy. I found the morning chanting especially amusing as the puppy kept wanting to play with my roommate and getting in her way as she tried to follow along and bow.

At 5am, we had a half hour of meditation. I’ve tried meditating before, but not very much as I’ve always gotten frustrated and given up pretty quickly. I was no more successful that morning, as I tried to count my breaths but kept getting distracted by some snoring. I kept wondering who had fallen asleep, before realizing it was the puppy passed out behind me. It also smelled quite strongly of wet dog, which wasn’t helping anything.

At 6am we had a Barugongyang, or a ceremonial Buddhist meal. First a junior monk named Lucius, who sounded like he was from New York or New Jersey somewhere, explained the rather complicated directions for our meal. We were given four plastic bowls stacked neatly inside each other, and followed along as he showed us the very specific way to arrange them. First we would be given some water, which we would pour from bowl to bowl to clean them. Then they’d give us our rice and soup, and we should take only as many vegetables as we’d need to get through the morning. All of this would be done in silence, to practice mindful eating.

I was a bit nervous about ‘messing up’ during the meal but tried just to relax and enjoy the experience. One thing that struck me was how we were supposed to be eating mindfully, which I thought meant slowly, yet everyone seemed to finish before me. Did I take too many vegetables? The only sound throughout the meal was the single strike of a bamboo stick to mark each part of the process. After everyone had finished eating, they brought around some warm barley water, which was used to clean your bowls with a piece of kimchi cabbage. Then you ate the kimchi, and drank the tea/water. I can see how this would sound kind of gross, but it actually tasted all right. The final step was to make one more pass with the clean water, which was then emptied into a bucket, except for any food residue left in the bottom, which you had to drink. Then everything was wiped down and put away.


I didn’t take any pictures of the meal, but it looked something like this, with a few less monks.

I thought this effort to waste as little as possible was pretty inspiring, although I was also happy to see our visitor bowls would actually be washed ‘for real’ before being used again. While the process was really long and complicated, I liked that it made me think about everything I was doing so much more than I normally would. I felt very conscious of every aspect of eating, and thoughtful about what kind of an impact it had on the environment and world around me. While mindfully eating, my mind kept thinking about how the food didn’t seem to make a particularly balanced diet – mostly white rice, some vegetables, but not nearly enough dark leafy greens to be getting enough protein, from what I could tell. How can these sunmudo masters survive on that?

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7am fog around the temple entrance.

After our meal we had time for a brief nap before ‘tea and conversation’ with two of the sunmudo masters. We all sat in a circle and discussed Buddhism, temple life and dharma. The tea was good, and the conversation interesting, but I found sitting on the floor to get a bit uncomfortable. Which was not the best lead-in for our next activity…

The 108 bows. I had been dreading them ever since learning of their existence, and didn’t think there was any way I would make it through 108.

Why 108?

“We have 6 doors of perception: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste and thought.
There are 3 aspects of time: past, present and future.
There are 2 conditions of the heart/mind: pure or impure.
There are 3 possible attitudes: like, dislike and indifference.

Korean Buddhists use this formula 6 x 3 x 2 x 3 = 108 bows to cut through our Karma.”

For each bow, you are supposed to meditate on one point. The 108 starts and ends with:
1. Homage to the Buddha
2. Homage to the Dharma
3. Homage to the Sangha

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(The setting of our 108 bows.)

That morning my legs had already been a bit sore from bowing and sunmudo the day before. After sitting uncomfortably for tea and then climbing up to one of the small temples in the side of the mountain, I wasn’t really feeling up to it. But I figured I’d give it a try. It was just us visitors and one of the sunmudo masters. We all bowed together in silence, each one marked by the single hit of the bamboo stick. I tried to concentrate on my breathing and see if I could meditate, but found myself a bit too wrapped up with the mechanics of bowing and standing up to really be able to let go and relax. But I did manage to stay on count! At bow number 101, an ajumma came in and pushed one of the girls behind me out of her way to grab a mat. She then pushed Paul’s mat over and tried to tell him something rather stern-sounding in Korean, despite how obvious it was that we were all busy bowing and being silent. It was quite amusing.

I made it to the end! But then my legs hurt everywhere from hip to knee, and even my fingers hurt from helping push me up. And so I spent the next half hour or so on a bench, dreading the climb down the many steps back down the mountain. But the sun was out, and the view was good, and this guy was pretty amusing to watch:

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This guy walked headfirst down the stairs and back up the mountain three times – on his knuckles – to warm up for his sunmudo performance. Hardcore.

It was cool to watch the sunmudo performance as it was done by the masters we had seen in the temple. They had some pretty amazing flying kicks, but the most impressive part was a series of ridiculously high jumps from a seated position. I’m still trying to figure out how this was possible.

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From a seated position. Seriously.

It was definitely an interesting experience, and something I’d recommend to anyone coming through Korea. I’m hoping to try out a few more temples in my time here, and would even consider doing a longer-term stay to work on meditating…and my spin kick.

Go to Golgulsa! —-> http://golgulsa.com/

Sangju – a weekend in small town Korea

Thanksgiving weekend I headed out of Ulsan to visit another friend from my EPIK orientation. She was placed at an all-girls’ high school in Sangju, a rather small rural city (120,000 people) located not too far away from Andong, about three hours north of Ulsan. Rumor had it there was a restaurant that served turkey, and even though only two of us were from the US (among a Canadian, a Brit and two Irish), we were pretty determined to find some turkey for the holidays.

According to my coworkers, Sangju is famous for bicycles and persimmons. It also has some historical significance, according to Wikipedia: it was an important fortress during the Shilla dynasty, and home to some famous rebellions during the fall of the dynasty in the late 9th century.

So my visit to Sangju was in search of turkey, bicycles, and persimmons – all of which we failed rather miserably in finding. But this did not affect the awesome-ness of the weekend.

Sangju has a bike museum that provides free (!!) bike rentals. So Saturday morning, we hopped in a cab and headed to the museum on the outskirts of the city, quite a ways from my friend’s apartment. When we got there, we found the museum was closed and the entire area was deserted.

Bike Museum
Cute design!

But nearby were a bunch of persimmon farms, and supposedly a temple, so we decided to walk the route we had planned to bike.

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On a farm next to the bicycle museum.

Frankenstein?
On the side of the road. Frankenstein?

Unfortunately, it was winter, and Saturday, so the farms were quite barren and deserted. We had just missed persimmon season. Had we been there a few weeks earlier, our route would have been lined by persimmons hung up to dry. Unfortunately, it was cold and everything was pretty shut down.

We did find a few:
Persimmons, hung up to dry
We bought a bag of them, and they were incredibly delicious.

Disgarded persimmon bits
Someone dumped all their peels on the side of the road.

We continued up the road, which lead up a hill to the temple. Just as we arrived at the temple, it started to rain.
A temple in Sangju

A temple in Sangju

Frozen and wanting to get into the rain, we were let into one of the temple rooms by a woman/Buddhist who worked there.

Seeking shelter from the rain in a temple

The temple smelled like incense. It had heaters, but they weren’t turned on, so it was still quite cold. But at least we were dry.
Cold feet

Left on our own in the temple, we laid down on the floor, ate more dried persimmons, and goofed around a bit. Eventually we noticed the cameras in every corner of the room. Just then, the woman who had let us into the temple came in. She asked us some questions in Korean, which none of us understood. Then she led us in some bows. I don’t know anything about Buddhism, but the bows consisted of standing with your hands pressed together in front of you, then getting down on your knees, kneeling completely forward to press your forehead onto the floor, and then standing up to repeat. We did this three times in front of the big Buddha statue, then three more times each in front of two pictures of some other guys.

After we had ‘prayed’, or whatever, the woman led is into the building next door, which seemed to be the head office. Behind her desk (which was of course on the floor – all of the tables in the rather large room were down on the floor) was a TV showing images from all of the security cameras. Oops.

We sat on the squishy floor and she gave us some coffee and extremely dry rice cake. There was another monk in the room, a Sri Lankan man visiting for a few months. He was studying Korean. Unfortunately none of us spoke enough Korean to really communicate, and so after a little while we tried to call a cab. But because of the weather, the cab company was booked. So the monk lady helped us call a cab. I tried to offer her some of our dried persimmons in thanks, but considering she lived in the land of dried persimmons she wasn’t really interested.

Waiting to catch a cab back into town
Cold, waiting for the cab.

As Sangju isn’t that much bigger than the small suburban city I grew up in, I didn’t expect much for a Saturday night out. But I was pleasantly surprised.

First of all, I found this shop downtown:
New York hot dogs! and coffee!
They seem to have more hot dog options than I remember ever seeing in NYC.

Bowling!
Then we went bowling! I even managed to break 100 (barely) on my second game! Also, please note the red, white and blue banners in the background.

The other most awesome thing about Sangju: the noraebangs come with wigs! And masks! And some even have costumes! Supposedly this is pretty popular in Korea, but I have yet to find another noraebang with such accoutrements, and I would consider my self a frequent noraebang-er.

Sangju's awesome noraebangs

Sangju's awesome noraebangs
Mark channels his inner-Freddie Mercury.

Sangju's awesome noraebangs

Akosua noraes

I don’t know why noraebangs in Ulsan don’t provide you with wigs and masks and costumes, but I’m determined to find more that do.

One of the best things about all of these private room-type places (DVD Bangs, noraebangs, play rooms – which are like DVD bangs but have Nintendo Wii or Playstation and internet hook-ups) is that you can sneak in your own alcohol, and they provide you with free snacks. Which make them significantly cheaper than drinking at a bar.

Sangju was very easy to get to from Ulsan. We thought we’d have to bus to Gumi and change buses, but as it turned out the bus went all the way through to Sangju. It wasn’t that cheap, or quick, but well worth the visit! I’ll be back again in the spring to hopefully find some biking and more operational farms.