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.

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