Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Buddhist Templestay and 4th of July!

Happy Belated Birthday America! I wish I could have been there to celebrate with you - alas, I spent the holiday weekend in Seoul in a unique fashion.

Friday night, I went to a delicious duck restaurant with my friends. It was Korean barbeque style, and it was both amazing and affordable. I'm really going to miss this when I leave. Following dinner, we headed to a noraebang to karaoke our hearts out for several hours. Noraebangs are everywhere in the city (literally on every block), and they consist of private rooms with screens, microphones, and tambourines (the tambourine really makes the experience). Participants use a special remote to put their song of choice on the tv, and voila - your song comes on complete with English subtitles. I hadn't been noraebanging in awhile, and I forgot how fun it is. This particular noraebang (because this is Korea, and like I've said before, nothing makes any sense here) comes complete with full body animal costumes -- because if noraebang itself isn't fun enough, you can noraebang while dressed as a giraffe, cow, cat, or my personal favorite: the flying squirrel. This one also had free ice cream in the lobby so it was definitely a win-win for us. The only problem I have with noraebangs is the videos on the screen are always really sad. No matter how vile or inappropriate your rap song or how intense you get your Beyonce on, the songs are always played to a.) A Vietnam War scene b.) A domestic violence scene c.) A gang shootout d.) starving children.

After my late night noraebang experience, I got up Saturday and headed to Myogaksa Temple in northern Seoul. My friend Rachel and I signed up for a temple stay a few weeks ago. I'm not exactly sure what motivated me to do this, because reading the itinerary I knew I probably wouldn't enjoy the experience, and I was right. Now that I'm comfortably back in my apartment, I can look back on the experience and be glad I did it while being even more glad in my decision to never become a Buddhist monk.

Inside the temple grounds

After putting on our temple stay attire (gray prison uniforms with elastic around the ankles and a baby Buddha stamped on the breast pocket), we were greeted by an enthusiastic nun who taught us about Buddhism and how the tradition has impacted Korea. I know absolutely nothing about either topic so it was quite interesting. The nun was bald, wearing traditional monk garb, and had good English and a big smile. As we sat on cushions in a large room with 3 other templestay participants, the nun would periodically stop talking and shriek, "SURPIRSE HAIR!" and a student monk would scurry out with both hands extended. The nun would pick up the one strand of hair and give it to the student monk who then left the room to deposit it in what I only can imagine is a big receptacle for surprise stray hairs found on the temple floor. While the nun told stories, she also would periodically end them with, "and now he's my facebook friend," which I found simultaneously cute and bizarre. Korea really is where old meets new.

Saturday evening, we rang a bell, went to a chanting ceremony, learned to meditate, and did 108 prostrations. My legs are still sore from all the getting down and getting back up, and I now thank God that I am not Buddhist and don't have to do this regularly. Following a vegetarian dinner (in silence), we went to sleep (on the floor) early so we could get up before dawn to ring the bell again, meditate for an hour, and take a walk on the mountain. After breakfast and a tea ceremony we were free to go home. While I do recommend the experience and I am very glad I did this, I will never do a templestay again. Been there. Done that.

The rest of my Sunday (and there was a lot of it left since I got up so early!) I spent shopping and getting ready for our Seoul 4th of July picnic. My friends and I had a potluck party in Seoul Forest complete with fried chicken, deviled eggs, potato salad, apple pie, cookies, chips, beer, and soju lemonade. We even found sparklers (sold at the stationary store's sock aisle. Obviously.), and we had a great evening celebrating America.
Seoul Forest for 4th of July

This week and next week are my final weeks of regular school at Gil-Dong. I am really excited to finish! I have only been teaching 4th and 5th grade since March, and while I love my 4th graders, my 5th graders are about to drive me absolutely crazy. I have one class that always leaves with someone crying because they pick fights with each other, I have kids yelling in class, throwing things, and just in general not listening to a word that comes out of my foreign speaking mouth. It takes all my energy just to keep their attention. It is also unreal how much unnecessary noise an 11 year old can make. They are constantly tapping on things, banging on things, rocking their chairs, humming, or (and this one really gets me) dropping things. I had no idea kids were this clumsy, but every few minutes something is clattering to the floor. My nerves are completely shot, and I need this year to be finished. Below are a few pictures my 5th graders drew of their friends.

"She has so-so face."
What a great friend.

"He is short. He is not smart. He has not money. He don't have umbrella. He has gun."
The unfortunate friend...

The rest of my week not at work will be spent going to baseball and spending time in a Wiibang (like noraebang except to play Wii) with my friends. Hope everyone had a fun and safe holiday!

*Because I have received several negative notes about this post, I feel it is important to note that I mean no disrespect to Buddhism by writing about my temple stay experience. Just because I didn't have fun (and the program isn't meant to be fun- it's meant to be enlightening and educational), I learned a lot about Buddhist culture through the patience and kindness of those who ran the program, Like I said above, I am glad that I had the experience, and I do recommend the Myogaksa program for anyone interested in learning more about Buddhism.

1 comment:

  1. baaaahaha so-so face! The brutal honesty is in no way surprising! Love the blog, it looks really good!!!!