Monday, January 4, 2010

Going Retro - November 2009

As promised, in a much better mood now. I'm better prepared for my chilly office. I put winter tights on under my jeans, and super warm fuzzy socks on too. Thermal undershirt under my sweater which is under my winter coat. And I brought my sheepskin slippers (from Egli's Sheep Farm back home) and a big jar of Citron tea to school, I think I'm on mug number 4. Also, brought my MP3 player to school, so I've been chillin to some fantastic music: Fleet Foxes, the Weakerthans, Great Lake Swimmers, Sandi Thom, etc.

Now, imagine my shock and surprise when I scanned back through recent posts to the blog and discovered my last narrative entry, as far as the "life of Lisa" goes, left off at Halloween! Sorry guys!

The good news is, November wasn't nearly as busy as September and October.

The first weekend is probably the only one really worth blogging about - Amanda Ammon and I headed to Gyeongju (Korea's ancient Capital during the 3 kingdom's period)located north of Busan, to tour the ancient sites and do our first Buddhist temple stay. Gyeongju is one of those places in South Korea that I think every expat should go see. Once it was a royal city filled with Palaces and Shrines, now it is a small tourist town built around the remains. About the only things still intact are the enormous royal tombs that rise out of the ground like the small perfectly circular hills you would see in the background of a Mario Bros game on a Super Nintendo. We toured much of the sights on foot, beginning at the Gyeongju National Museum, then walking over to Anapji Pond. From there we walked past the first of the royal tombs (Daereungwon tombs), and the remains of Royal Palace - only stumps of stone left in the ground - Cheomseongdae Observatory (the oldest standing Astronomy tower in Asia) and onto the Royal Tomb park. One of the royal tombs has been opened to visitors as a sort of "walk in" museum, where visitors can see how the tomb was designed and how the body and artifacts would have been laid out! We learned that when a King died, his queen and many servants would also be sacrificed and buried with him, the intent being that they would continue to serve the King in the next life.

After pounding all that pavement, I felt relieved when we met up with our friends from Suncheon who would also join us for a temple stay at Golgulsa, a mountain-side temple outside the city. We were dropped off at a highway junction by a rural bus and walked about 20 minutes following signs. I didn't mind. Fall in Korea is spectacular and we were walking down a winding road than ran through a small industrial town settled in the valley of a mountain range. I loved feeling 'away' from the city. We huffed and puffed our way up the short by steep pathway to the temple office for check-in. We then learned that our accomodations were at the bottom of the hill we'd just climbed, and thus we'd be making that trek many times in the next 24 hours. According to the Buddhist tradition, we ate a vegetarian supper and finished everything on our plates (Buddhists try to not to waste anything, particularly food as it sustains our bodies). Golgulsa is a famous temple in Korea because its monks practice Sunmudo, a rare and ancient meditative martial art. Not designed for combat, Sunmudo requires the practitioner to have complete control over their mind and body in order to perform the difficult, almost dancelike moves. So though most of us came prepared to meditate, we were quite suprised to find ourselves sweating and straining through a Sunmudo training session. We had a short lesson in meditative technique and then were treated to a remarkable Sunmudo demonstration that had been put together for a group of Korean visitors to the temple (lucky us).

Soon after that it was time for bed - we had a 4 am wake up call to meet! We slept as most Koreans do, on a hot ondol floor with blankets to serve as mattress and cover. Our pre-dawn alarm clock was a junior monk tapping a wooden bell and chanting outside our building. (Punishment for sleeping in was 1080 bows to Buddha, and no one dared risk finding out how strictly this policy was enforced!) After doing some morning bows and a walking meditation, we met with the monks in the dining hall to participate in the Balwoo-gongyang for breakfast around 6 AM. The Balwoo-gongyang is a meditative meal practiced by Buddhists designed to focus the mind on the food that sustains us: where it came from, the earth it gained its nutrients from, the farmer who cared for and harvest the food to the cook who prepared the meal. Nothing is wasted. The dinnerware consists of a placemat, chopsticks, a spoon and four bowls - one of which is filled with hot water for washing the other three bowls with at the end, so that you begin and end the meal with 4 clean bowls. Done properly, nothing is wasted except maybe a half a cup of water. It was one of my favourite experiences at Golgulsa, not to mention a technique I can adapt the next time I go camping.
After breakfast was finished, I hiked up the side of the mountain to see the Maya Tathagata Buddha (a big Stone Buddha cut in relief into the side of the mountain)and take in a breaktaking view of the mountain valley and forest as the sun rose. I visited the cave shrine for a little bit of meditation. We had some free time in the morning in which you could go on a tour of some local sites, which I opted out of to take the most glorious nap this girl has ever taken. To finish up the stay we ate lunch and then participated in a special tea ceremony with a student monk (He was one of the few who could speak English) who answered our questions regarding Buddhism and the Buddhist lifestyle.

Before heading back into Gyeongju to catch a bus home, Amanda and I decided we wanted to take in one more historic site: Bolguksa Temple, a temple so big and beautiful they made into a UNESCO site. It was raining pretty heavily by the time we got there, so I bought a bright green poncho to try to protect my pack. Despite the rain, the temple and its grounds were stunning, particularly the pond outside which made the brilliant japanese maple trees nearby seem to glow. We were in a bit of a hurry, so as not to miss the last bus back to Suncheon, and in my haste I managed to forget my wallet inside the main Shrine hall, and naturally didn't notice until we were all the way at the bus stop. It was quite a jog to get all the way back up the hill and inside the grounds! Thankfully the ticket guys didn't make me pay again, and of course, this is Korea, my wallet had been put behind the counter for safekeeping, money and cards just as I had left them. I also bought a really pretty souvenir bell similar to the Emile bell we saw at the National Museum from a vendor who happily accepted my money and then stuffed the trinket in a box proclaiming "Made In China". Yeesh.

Here's the photos:

I was low on cash and energy after all that had happened in the last 5 weeks, so the rest of the month was pretty low key. Lots of social events of course, but I stayed in Suncheon, and we did a few fun photo shoots with Amanda Gale's fancy new DSLR camera. Photoshoot #1 - Kate, Lindsey C and I dressed up as Marionettes (ala my design for my Halloween Costume); Amanda G dressed up as an Angel and Lindsey V dressed up as death. Photoshoot #2 - at the end of November I put up my Christmas tree and Amanda Gale patiently took about 600 pictures over two days until Mokah decided she was ready to sit pretty in front of the tree for my Christmas Photo Cards I sent out. But we did have a lot of fun with it and Amanda and Kate both got some holiday shots to send home out of it too!

Will try to quickly write up a summary of December and the New Year before I head off on Vacation - Tomorrow I'm flying to Kota Kinabalus Malaysia!!!

I'll leave you on this note: I discovered that of all things, the toilet seats in the teacher's bathroom are heated! I have seriously been considering bringing my laptop to school and setting up shop in the lavatory. :P

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