Wednesday, August 12, 2009

flea markets and 'won' buddhism

well hey!
it's been a while, hmm?
im on serious catch-up now - about seven months+ now?
not much excuse for not keeping up with things. it's been a busy summer, fall, and winter for me. my last semester of teaching in seoul was in conjunction with a semester of online grad school (more on that later), and these last few weeks of being back home haven't lent themselves to much time on the internet. ive been focusing on being back with my girl, my family and friends (and computer problems - as always - to boot)

lotsa happenings: summer in taiwan with ginny, a masters in applied linguistics, deciding to leave korea, and plans for going to africa and hong kong in the very near future. but before i delve into those things here, i want to catch up from where we left off...
i believe in my last post, i was nearing the end of my first semester at Hankuk university of foreign studies. the next event i have pictures for was the flea market at school, so i'll start there.

every semester at HUFS we organize a day for each class to take a break from classes, decorate their room on a theme of their choice, and engage in general ridiculousness. this is flea market day (the idea being that everyone also brings in old things they want to get rid of; the classes try to sell their stuff to each other and raise cash in other ways such as setting up gambling games, selling food, and random thievery). there are various prizes awarded such as best decorations, most money raised, best english use, etc. competition is easy to create in korea, as (in my opinion) the education system largely facilitates this attitude toward academics, and it also permeates into other areas of people's lives such as economics, professionalism, society, family, and pretty much everywhere else. so, although the money raised goes to a local orphanage fund (which is wonderful, dont get me wrong), this is not what is on everyone's minds. do i sound a wee bit cynical? oops.

it really is a fun day, though, albeit a bit exhausting for everyone, teachers included (especially those who have to return for night classes - cue violin music). the class i was in charge of organizing and representing was the 1C class. teachers actually really like this day because it can reinvigorate a class that has lost its steam near the end of the 20 week term (the 1C class being one of those). our theme, if i remember correctly, was 'returning to kindergarten'. other than the colorful streamers and balloons hanging from our ceiling, though, im not sure how well we managed create this atmosphere. we DID have a live concert, which was a lot of fun, in which a few students and i played some music to candlelight. they chose the songs ('creep' - radiohead, 'time is running out' - muse, and 'falling slowly' from the movie 'once') to which i played guitar and assisted with vocals, and of course i had to play a solo at the end which i cant remember what i chose. our other guitarist (tom) actually played in a local band in hongdae (an indie, artsy, and a little crazy young-people-district in seoul) - we sounded a lot better than i expected; our vocals guy named 'chan' was really quite good too.

[me and student dongjae 'david' playing some dice game in their halloween-themed classroom]

['hadi' taking money from students from the 1A class]

[this was our 'kindergarten'-themed classroom; they're playing wii bowling for a tournament we set up. that's JYJ mid-swing - it's really kind of cool that the flea market allows students from other classes to wander from room to room and meet other classes which normally doesn't happen unless you live in the dorms upstairs]

[john from 2C class - i cant remember their theme exactly, but it involved decorating their classroom as a beach with ocean, setting up prop-tents on the floor, and the guys cross-dressing (not the ajossis, or middle-aged men, of course)]

[2C in all their glory]

[the 1B class set up a 'gonggi' tournament which is like the korean version of jacks. one player throws four pieces down, tosses the fifth in the air, picks up one piece, and catches the tossed one, repeating this until all four pieces are picked up; they then throw down the four pieces again and pick up two at a time, tossing and catching the fifth piece each time; round three is picking up three pieces and then the last one, and round four is picking up all four pieces on the ground with one toss of the fifth after that, the player has to toss all five pieces in the air and catch them on the back of their hand. the number caught on the back of the hand is the number of points scored for that player, and they then continue from the first round of tossing and picking up one piece at a time. so you can only score points if you make it to the tossing-onto-the-back-of-your-hand-stage without making a mistake which would require you to hand over the pieces to your opponent. short games usually last to 15 points or 20 and some people are just insane at this. i sucked. horribly.]

[my 1C class (with teacher matt in the back)]

[the 1As had a military-service theme (if you're not aware, all men in korea have to serve 2 years and this creates quite a culture)]

[teacher vince wii bowling in the 2C classroom]

[2C's Ahreum selling strawberry-cream-saltine treats]

[the championship round for the gonggi tournament - 1A's Jinny was the winner; it was an exciting game]

that weekend i went to temple with two of my 1A students, chuck and smith. the sect of buddhism to which the temple belonged was 'won buddhism' (wonbulgyo) which is a anti-image sect of buddhism established about 100 years ago in korea by a man who, according to the tradition of wonbulgyo, attained great enlightenment and forsaw the modern world becoming consumed in a material culture and therefore emphasized an detachment from materialism (hence none of the recognizable symbols of other buddhist traditions) and a spirituality rooted in faith with strong adherence to moral discipline. the doctrine outlined by this man's (can't remember his name) became a part of their religious text. i received a copy of the text from these very friendly people which i partially read. i cant remember specifically what else the doctrine is based on, but i do remember being surprised and pleased by a number of things i experienced there.

first of all, the church service is largely reflective and personal. there are a few chantings and reading that everyone does together, but the main purpose of the service as far as i could see it was to facilitate inward exploration. after the service we did some stretching and massaged each other's backs (very similar to warming up for choir practice or something) before heading off into small group discussions. i was struck by how this structure to communal worship was very similar to the organization of church time in christian churches in korea. the small group time was especially wonderful. instead of attempting to interpret scripture with the purpose of establishing mutual agreement on the fundamental meanings of Jesus' words, as is the general custom of bible study in most of the christian churches ive visited in korea, this group session consisted of simply asking philosophical questions about existence and the false implications of the world we live in. questions, thoughtful and poignant ones, were valued, not answers.

ive never been good with answers in bible study and often feel uncomfortable when i hear others giving them, so this was a refreshing and welcome change for me. won buddhism values three forms of spiritual practice (getting these from my wonbulgyo book now): 'samadhi' - the cultivation of the spirit, 'prajňā' - inquiry into facts and principles, and 'śīla' - the consideration of moral choices (karmic action)

in short, i found the experience to be spiritually stimulating and encouraging. i was delighted to have the chance to feel comfortable in a spiritual community in korea. it is amazing where and how you can find encouragement sometimes. experiences like these keep me exploring. although i consider myself a christian, ive found 'brotherhood' in people of many different backgrounds. both the good and bad experiences end up being positive for me and the growth of my own faith.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

the blue house

06 May 2009~

Sunyoung had asked me a month or so previous if I would like to come visit her at her part-time teaching job sometime, and of course I said I would love to. You see, Sunyoung was working at the Blue House. The Blue House is like Korea's version of the White House. Yes, that's right, the official residence of the president of South Korea. As you might expect, 청와대 ('cheongwadae' - 'blue tiled house') also contains several other buildings, and the whole place is thick with security. And this is exactly where my connection lay. Sunyoung was teaching English to the security staff of the blue house. She had been telling me a lot about her work, and now was finally my chance to meet this troop of what I believed to be intimidating ajossis (working men). I couldn't have been more wrong, though. They were all extremely friendly and courteous and excited to try out their English on me. They blew my nervousness out of the water! But the experience also reiterated my observation of how differently in Korea strangers act when they have a reason to know you and when they don't. I barely had a chance to take a breath with all the running around and talking we did. It was a load of fun.

[here's the actual Blue House]

[this is some reception hall]

There were so many strange security precautions like where we were supposed to walk or stand and which way we were supposed to go. We were constantly being rushed along so that everyone would have enough time (there were other groups of visitors). Somewhere along the way, I was given a free, green mug with a picture of the Blue House on it.

[me and Sunyoung]

After the tour, we had lunch in the security guards' cafeteria which was in their office building. It was pretty tasty. The whole neighborhood is right in the middle of Seoul, but I had never been there before, and it felt so different. I imagined how strange I would feel walking down those streets if I were there on my own - the only people who lived there were government workers, and everyone on the street had a suit on. This day turned out to be Sunyoung's last day with her students, so they presented her with a gift of appreciation, and we were able to meet the director of the Blue House security. Pretty cool stuff. I was a little nervous about that, because the range of my knowledge about Korean etiquette only goes so far, and I had never been in a situation like this one before. Still I managed to muddle through and give a few dazzling displays of Korean speaking skills (not really). Definitely a unique experience.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

bungee jumping in korea

05 May 2009~

so one day during my lunch break at work, i went outside to chill. I sat down on a bench and after a while, a couple of my student buddies came and sat down next to me. we were chatting about the upcoming weekend, and one guy, eric, began talking about bungee jumping. pretty soon after, he, david, and I had laid out plans to take a little trip to 청풍랜드 (cheongpung land) the location of korea's highest bungee jump. saturday morning, eric and i woke up early and travelled to david's home in 잠실 (jamsil) were we rented a car and proceeded to drive southeast from seoul to where the park is located, approximately in between the cities of chungju and danyang.

the drive was incredible. it was a perfect day for windows down and music blaring. i was a little apprehensive doing another daytrip-drive after the traffic torture of the last one, but things proved promising as we had chosen an out-of-the-way destination. the scenery was marvelous. driving between mountains and along a river as it dug deeper and deeper into a breathtaking gorge, we spotted many places that would be nice to sit and enjoy a beer on the side of the road. the order of business had to be carried out first, however, preferably, but not necessarily, bereft of beer.

we got to the park and bought tickets for all the rides (there were 3). we decided to save the bungee jump for last and try to sort of work our way up to it.

[david, eric, and me, ready for the first ride - this crane was cranked back upwards; the rope hanging below me is the release cord; once we get to the top with a great and terrible view of what lies beneath our bellies, we have to pull the cord to send us hurling like a wrecking ball downwards - for me, this turned out to be more thrilling and terrifying than actually bungee jumping]

[trying to work up the nerve to pull the cord - im glad someone else did it instead of me]

[david and i getting ready for the 'ejection seat' ride which is pretty much what you would imagine - two bungee cords on either end are stretched upwards, then the cockpit is released, spinning in a roll; i did this one twice]

[second time with eric]

unfortunately we didnt get picture of actually bungee jumping, so i'll have to summarize it for you. basically, it was the closest ive ever come to feeling like im in combat - waiting for my turn to jump, feeling the fear of the other people around me as they're waiting, getting suited up, standing on the brink trying not to think about anything and especially not about whether or not im going to do it, someone shouting at you to go! we had to sign our names on a injury/death waiver before being allowed up to the top of the structure. once we got up there, we had to sit and wait while other people went ahead of us. one guy couldn't do it and that discouraged everyone. eric went first, then it was me.

i just tried to force everything out of my head and obey like a robot when i was told to go. once i jumped, it was spectacular. soaring through the air, i wasn't afraid at all, just filled with exhilaration. i remember clearly the sensation of looking past my toes at the sky as i was being pulled upward upside-down by my feet after reaching the end of the first plummet (the bungee was tied to my feet). it was incredible.

i guess im supposed to call out the name of my lover as im falling, but i was worried about david waiting to go next and i wanted to tell him how great it was and to not worry. so i called out 'DAVID!!' instead of 'ginny'. sorry, ginny.... after that i sort of went crazy and started unbuttoning my shirt as i was bouncing around and beating my chest and screaming like a maniac (i watched other people go after that and didnt see anyone do anything like this, so i felt a little embarrassed later). the bungee eventually goes slack and you are lowered into a swimming pool where there is someone in a rowboat waiting to detach you from the bungee. waiting to be detached kinda sucks because at that point, all the blood is in your face and you think your nose and ears and eyes are going to pop off. it was fun.

[congradulating each other afterwards]

[eric and i get married]

[energized after the jump, we got some lunch and drove back (no traffic), enjoying a couple beers at a park before saying goodbye - truly a terrific day!]

Friday, July 10, 2009

road trips, seafood, mostly-clean beaches, horrendous traffic

01 May 2009~

the second half of the spring term at HUFS (my school) included a change in classes and schedules for the teachers, and after a couple weeks of adjusting and organizing class materials, i was ready for a break. saturday was my birthday, so on friday night, i went out for some 삼겹살 (samgyeopsal) with my old 1A class and had a thoroughly good time. at one point i was drinking a pyramid-waterfall of shots of soju, immediately after which i received a returned call from YBM english school about scheduling a korean class (i told the guy it wasn't a good time). the night stretched on quite late; i invited 1A to hang out at my apartment, and we stayed up past dawn. i remember sitting on the steps to the building as the sky was brightening and chatting drunkenly with MK (the class's captain and one super swell guy). most of us slept on the floor.

03 May 2009~

on sunday i was meeting up with my two old students and friends from suwon, philip and daniel, and daniel's fiance in suwon from where we would be driving out to 동해 ('donghae'), the east sea. having never been there, i was really excited to get out and do a road trip. it was fine sailing as we flew down the beautiful country roads, and the weather was perfect. upon arriving in the smallish town of donghae, we immediately embarked on a quest to conquer our hunger on raw seafood. the local fish market was quite sizable, albeit a little cramped with all the people running to and fro.

we selected our victims and followed a hired butcher to her personal killing station. i watched with awe and just a little bit of horror at the offhandish-deftness with which she dispatched our prey and sliced it up for us into neat, little, bite-sized morsels.

[we took our food to a little restaurant that doesn't sell food, but rents space and a means to cook your recently-purchased seafood]

after a large and satisfying meal, we took a stroll of the docks where the fishermen and fishing boats were resting.

we then made our way to the beach, and here we rested for a few hours to digest, soak up the sun and fresh air, and watch the children playing and exploring.

[daniel and me]

strangely (and unintentionally) i can't seem to find any photos of philip (well, there was one, but he was blinking and making a dorky face, so i left that one out for his sake).

anyway, with the afternoon mostly spent, we decided to start our drive back to seoul. little did we know of the horrendous madness that awaited us on the road...

traffic. serious and terrible and ridiculously congested traffic. i will spare the details and just leave you with the image of an endless crawl that tried the patience and spirits of us all. running out of things to say is bad. playing the same music over and over again is worse. and the slow realization that what had previously taken less than 3 hours was going to take 8 and that i would not be able to get home because the subway was going to close brought my anxiety to its apex. our own fault for coming back on sunday evening. ugh.

afterwards, when we finally reached suwon, i stayed at philip's place. he was a very gracious host and i was incredibly thankful for his accommodation. luckily, i didn't have to teach until 11:30 the next morning, so i was able to go home early in the morning when the subway opened and take a nice nap in my own bed before heading to work. donghae was great, but i needed another weekend afterwards.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

hahoe village traditional mask dance

19 april 2009~ ANDONG MASK DANCE

im finally getting around to writing about this unique, colorfully-captivating event.
the location is 하회마을 (hahoe village); the time, around 4pm on sunday afternoons.
it is a traditional mask performance. in the past, the dance was performed only every few years and one the lunar new year. it is both a shaman ritual to please the local goddess and drive away evil spirits and a form of entertainment which all of the villagers would take part in, praying for good harvest, prosperity, and peace. i will do my best to give you a run-down of the story as it plays out in my pictures and, if i can, reveal some of the satirical irony behind the characters and scenes enveloping them.

[the arena; before the performance drums and a flute are played, and these continue throughout each scene - props to the flute player for his lung stamina]

[DANCE 1 - this is the opening dance (called 무동마당 - mudong madang); the woman being carried on the shoulders of another dancer is kakshi, representing the local goddess. she asks the people for offerings for which in return they will receive blessings and wealth]

[DANCE 2 - in this dance, 추지마당 (chuji madang), two chuji (lions) appear and begin dancing and play-fighting; the female wins, signifying an abundant harvest for the year. then 초랭이 (choraengi) - the meddler - comes in and chases them away, representing driving away demons and evil spirits]

[초랭이 (choraengi) - the meddler]

[DANCE 3 - 백종마당 (baekjong madang) - in this dance the butcher (baekjong) enters with a knife and axe and dances by himself for a while until he notices a big, brown bull lumber in. they dance together for a while, and then the butcher slams his axe into the bulls neck and cuts out the dead bull's heart and testicles which he then offers to sell to the spectators. (right before the axe falls, the bull starts urinating like mad, as you'll notice from the picture i took.) when no one buys them, he dances alone for a while until the sound of thunder frightens him off the stage. my guide pamphlet explained that the dance symbolizes the ruling class's authoritative attitude toward sexuality, removing the sexual taboo.]

[DANCE 4 - 할미마당 (halmi madang) - halmi, the old widow, comes in carrying a hand loom. she sits down and weaves for a while, then gets up and dances by herself for a while, bemoaning her tale of ill-fortune: she was widowed only three days after her wedding when she was fourteen. granny ambles about asking for donations; the dance represents the sufferings of the common people and the conflicts between classes. i was really struck by the grace of the performer. all of the dancers, in accordance with tradition, were men, and this one really captured the movements and body language of a laboring, old woman - the korean grandmother-age character is uniquely heart-warming and saddening at the same time. whenever ive gone out into the countryside and met with the older ladies, they have this endearing, sorrowful, but steadfast persona that strikes me deeply every time i encounter it.]

[kakshi comes in again, asking for more offerings with the old woman]

[DANCE 5 - 파계성마당 (pagyesung madang) - a young woman (부네 - bune) comes in and dances by herself for a while. she looks around to make sure nobody is around (above) and then squats down to take a leak. right then, a wandering monk notices her and becomes aroused (below). he dances with her and then runs away, carrying her on his back. choraengi (the meddler) sees them as they head off the stage.]

[the monk]
[the wandering monk examining and sniffing the patch of dirt where bune relieved herself. the dance criticizes the religious corruption of the time.]

[choraengi (right) runs into 이매 (imae - the fool, left) and tells him excitedly about what he saw. imae continues to grin stupidly and choraengi shrugs his shoulders saying, 'it's a funny world'. they dance together and exit.]

[DANCE 6 - 양반 & 손비 마당 (yangban & sonbi madang) - the aristocrat (yangban, right) and the scholar (sonbi, left) enter boasting to each other about their knowledge and status. choraengi (the meddler) mocks them and they lose face. then paekchong (the buther) comes in and offers to sell the bull testicles to them. at first they think it's indecent, but when paekchong tells them it will enhance their male vitality, they fight over buying them. halmi (the widow) comes in and laughs at them, then tries to reconcile between them. then everyone dances together joyfully. the purpose of this dance is to bring harmony to the social classes - the ruling class reconsiders its place, and the commoners are able to let off some steam.]

[afterwards all of the dancers come back in, taking their masks off, and everyone cheers as they prance around]

and there you have it!
that's pretty much it, though i'm sure i missed a lot of the subtleties. i think the dance, more than anything else i saw in hahoe village, shed light on a traditional korea.
really amazing stuff.