Sunday, November 22, 2009


This is the second post today, so make sure you scroll down and check out last week's adventures to the Dog Cafe and Aquarium.

This week was short so it was not very exciting.  On Thursday morning So Young told me that Sienna was pregnant and was having some issues so she wouldn't be in Thursday or Friday.  She had accidentally taken home both English Room keys and So Young was freaking out because she had an observation that day.  Thankfully I had previously seen that some fifth graders had broken in through the "locked" back door of the room and I figured out how they opened it.  Crisis averted!  On Friday I taught my fifth graders alone, and thanks to planning lots of activities and we went through back to back, everything went smoothly.  It is all about just not giving them enough time to be asses, hahah.  The classes flew by.

Thanks to conversations with one of my co-workers and with my mom, I've been doing a lot of thinking about how long I'll be here, etc.  When I left, I told everyone I would be here for at least one year (and my mom kept correcting me and saying "ONE YEAR ONLY.").  I had no idea what I was getting myself into, what living here would be like, how much it would cost, etc.  Seeing how I've settled into my life here, my mom said during one of our conversations "You're not coming home after a year, are you?" 

Honestly?  Probably not.  I want to stay at LEAST 18 months.  While I miss my family and friends terribly and sincerely wish I were closer, I can't help but ask myself, "Aside from them...what are you going home for?" 

I was really unhappy last year.  Many nights I would return home from work, exhausted and knotted with stress, just to close my bedroom door and cry.  I was constantly overcome with stress which didn't help my terrible eating habits or the fact that I never had energy to do anything.  I lived paycheck to paycheck (often overdrawing my account) and racked up a fair amount of credit card debt (for the first time in my life, and I've had a credit card since I was like 16).  I never had money to travel or do things that rekindled by passion for being in new places.  I felt stuck and suffocated.  THAT is what I am rushing home to?

Working regular and after school here, I make more than I made in states per month.  And I am not paying rent.  I have already paid off one credit card, not charged a single thing to my credit cards in three months, and have a bunch of money in the bank (and I don't even get paid my November paycheck until next Tuesday).  I am NEVER stressed about work (the closest is getting stressed over miscommunications at work) and honestly. I do very little.  I never ever have to work on anything at home, and I spend much of my free time at school messing around on the internet.  Rather than planning for 6 or 7 classes a day at home, I plan two lessons a WEEK here.  Yes, sometimes it gets repetitive, but I am able to change things up enough in each class that I don't go crazy.  I have adventures every weekend and I am planning a great trip to Thailand/Cambodia/Laos in February that I know I can afford without a shadow of a doubt.  There have been times of stress and homesickness, but never once have I questioned my decision to come here.

So will I stay longer than my one year contract?  Almost definitely yes.  And what will I do when I come home?  I have no idea.  I find it difficult to picture myself going back into that situation.  Would it be better if I was not in a Title I school? Not working special ed?  Not teaching in a testing grade?  Had a sane principal?  Maybe.  But it scares me to think about going back to that negative place.

As my dad warned me, "You can't just daisy chain these things together or you'll get to our age and not have any retirement."  I don't plan on doing this forever.  But what is stopping me from doing it now?  I am young and able, unencumbered by a family and a mortgage.  This is the time in my life when I need to have these adventures.  Do I want to raise a child in a foreign country?  Not especially.  I have said before, and will say again, that I definitely want to raise my children in the DC area.  But now, when I am free and have the chance, what is the problem with hoarding all the experiences that I can? 

Who knows.  A lot can happen in the next 9 months.  We'll see.  Either way I'll come home to at least visit next summer.  I'm not gone for good.  But I thnk it is good that I'm gone.

Dogs, Fish, and One Relaxing Weekend!

See, I told you not to get too used to the frequent updates!

I think I mentioned that on Thursday I got to go into school an hour late. This was the day of the Korean SATs, which are only offered once a year. If you miss it, or don't pass, for any reason, you must wait an entire year to take it again. Can you imagine how stressful that is? I can't. And their test is forever long compared to ours.

How crazy could they really be about this test? Check out this excerpt from the Korea4Expats site:
"The exam begins and ends at the same time all over the country - 8:40AM to 6:05PM on the 2nd Thursday of the month. Results are officially released during the 2nd week of December (in 2008 the test was on Thursday 13 November and the results published on Wednesday 10 December).

On this day, workers at government offices and public firms all over the country are allowed to arrive at work an hour later (10AM rather than 9AM)so reduce traffic congestion and ensure that all students arrive at the exam place on time. The stock market may open late and close early. The frequency of trains and buses is increased between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m.. Motorists are prohibited from honking their horns near schools and teams of volunteers and special police units work as traffic managers. Parking is banned within a 200-meter radius of test venues. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority restricts aircraft operations near the exam sites so that noise will not disturb students during listening tests. Flights, both domestic and international, operated by national and foreign carriers will have their takeoff schedules altered between 8:35 a.m. and 8:58 a.m. and 1:05 p.m. and 1:35 p.m. on exam day so air travelers should to check their flight schedule in advance on the 2nd Thursday of November. Strikers and protestors will often suspend their demonstrations for that day. The military, U.S. and Korean, will usually halt live-fire training and aviation missions.

In the morning, taxis offer free rides to exam takers, as do numerous motorcyclists. Younger students stand at the entrance of the school to welcome and cheer on the seniors as they arrive. After sending their off their daughter or son, teary-eyed mothers head for a temple or church to spend the day in prayer to help ensure their child’s success."

Yeah, THAT is why I was allowed to go into work an hour late on Thursday. Crazy! When we walked out of afterschool and towards the metro around 6:00pm on Thursday night there was a GIGANTIC crowd outside the girls' high school we have to pass. We had to fight our way through throngs of mothers, fathers and siblings praying and waiting for their daughters to come out of the test. INSANITY.  Only slighly different from my SAT experiences: sitting through the four hour test at DuVal as they mowed the lawns and ran the weedwhackers right outside the window of my testing room.

Friday was nothing special aside from being my entrance into a super relaxing and fun weekend around Seoul. I came home and watched a movie on my computer and went to bed earlyish.

Saturday I slept in late before meeting Brigid an Ayzia at the Bau House Dog Cafe in Hongdae.  Ok, this place is awesome.  I kind of want to move there.  The idea is that since many apartments in Seoul are small and lots of people can't have dogs, they make a place where people can go enjoy dogs for a little while.  The owner of Bau House owns about 15 dogs of his own, then people will drop off their dogs for doggie daycare there, board their dogs there, or bring them in to play while havin a cup of coffee.  The result? About 40 dogs of various sizes, shapes, and colors running around, having fun, and getting loved by people.  It is FANTASTIC! 

We had to wait about 20 minutes for a table, but during that time we were given free range to play with dogs and watch their awesome antics.  They offer food and drinks for reasonable prices.  For instance I got shrimp fried rice and a soda set for 10,000won.  Not too shabby!  The workers are really quick to clean up any...ahem...messes, so that is good.
Big dogs!

Little dogs!

Dogs doing tricks!

Cast of permanent characters.

You could buy treats there and the dogs would swarm you.  It was so fun.  I bought 4 bags of treats and had lots of friends. 

I am the Korean Dog Whisperer!

A face only a mother (or rabid sports fan) could love.

I got up to buy more treats an these punks on the left stole my seat!

I do not think these kids were prepared for what would happen when they started offering treats.

As you can see, the dogs really had full reign.  The walked on the tables, couches, window ledges, etc.  We got food and they would walk right up and stare at you.

Give us food, Natasha!

Nap time on the window ledge.

Observing his kingdom from the edge of our table.

All gussied up.  On our table.

Natasha and Ayzia with their new friend.  Little dog, big ears, Yankee's hoodie.  Of course.

Soon before we left a worker came over and handed me this little poodley dog.  She snuggled in right on my shoulder and promptly fell asleep. I didn't want to hand her off to another girl when I left!

Bau House Dog Cafe! from Meaghan Shanahan on Vimeo.

Moral of the story.  It was awesome.  This is how you get there:
Go to the Hapjeong Station (Green Line #2 and Brown Line #6) and take Exit 3.  At the first major intersection, turn right.  Go up a hill and down the other side.  When the street veers left and you see a Mix & Chicken Restaurant, turn right.
Turn right.

You will then see a giant building that looks like a castle.  This is a restaurant/bar called Praha Castle.  Turn left onto the alley across from Praha Castle.

Turn left.

Walk about 200 yards and you'll see the Bau House sign on the third floor of the building on your left.  Head inside and enjoy!

Little sign.

Windows on the third floor.

After we left Bau House, we headed over to Coex Mall to hit the Aquarium and eat an American dinner at T.G.I. Fridays.  For not being a huge aquarium or zoo fan (I always want to like them much more than I actually do), I really liked his aquarium.  It was interesting.  And the tunnel was freaking AWESOME.


Some tanks, like this koi pond, were a little more artistic.

A bajillion sardines!

Oh, this is the Korean, Korean Fishes.  Not the Korean American Fishes?

There was a whole section of "Fish as Art" or, as I liked to call it, "Fish In Unusual Places."  Like fish in a fridge!

Fish in a toilet!
Macabre?  A little.

Thank god SOMEONE is addressing that prejudice.  Who knew we were discriminating?

Jellyfish are undeniably cool.

So pretty.

Two headed turtle!

It wansn't strictly aquatic animals.  In the Amazon section there were 2 monkeys and a ton of super adorable fruit bats.  I wanted to squeeze them.  There was also a chipmunk randomly placed in the Fish as Art section.  Leading us to make joked about the elusive Korean chipmunkfish who is well disguised and has developed the ability to live on land.

Ayzia playing in the children's aquarium area.

Me playing in the children's aquarium area.

Totally sweet tunnel in the shark/sea turtle tank.

So close!

Sea turtle tummy!

Strike a pose!

After our adventures at the aquarium, we did a little shopping and headed over to T.G.I.Fridays.  Oh man, I needed that.  It was absurdly expensive, but let me tell you, the Jack Daniels steak and shrimp with cheese fries and a margarita was one of the best things I could have asked for.  Perfect. 

Sunday I slept in again before meeting Dana and Ayzia for Dr. Fish around 3:00pm.  I also go to meet Ayzia's friend Rachel, a Korean college student who she met while shopping at Lotte Mart.  Rachel is a cool girl and hung out with us for the evening.  We all got our drinks and relaxed for a bit by browsing some Korean fashion magazines and sharing some celebrity gossip.  Then we went up and got our feet nibbled. I loved it again.  Ayzia actually shrieked in the middle of the crowded cafe when she first put her feet in, but they won her over, haha.

Ayzia and Dana getting rinsed before the fish.  Check out the adorble socks on the cafe guy.

The filters stopped for like 3 seconds and I snappe some pictures of the fish eating Dana's feet.

And my feet.  Unfortunately, I had just moved and the fish had scattered.

After Dr. Fish we went down the street and bought our tickets to see the movie 2012.  We had some time to kill, so we went and had a delicious meal.

The mozarella pork fillets were sooooo good.

We went to the movie, which was okay, but nothing fantastic.  It was so. long.   And I had no idea that sections of it took place outside the US....during those times ENGLISH subtitles would have been helpful in addition to the Korean ones.  We were a little lost for some parts, but it was okay.

Monday I slept late again (sensing a pattern?) since I had a school holiday. Then I met Ayzia for some Christmas shopping in Insadong.  A few hours and lots of money later, I only have one or two more gifts to buy!  It was an extremely successful trip.  Including the purchase of a 2010-2011 Kim Bum (the boy I'm in love with from Boys Before Flowers) Calendar!


Thursday, November 12, 2009

When Did That Happen?

Today at lunch I sat down to eat some totally unidentifiable soup. Like I would be hard pressed to name 3 ingredients in this soup. There was one particular ingredient that was plentiful and as I was eating, I was thinking "Hmm...I wonder what this is." Then I mentally shrugged and thought "Eh, its probably just fermented bean curd."

Then my brain came to a SCREECHING HALT. WHEN did my diet change to the point that eating FERMENTED BEAN CURD was just eh, whatever?!? And how did I miss that?

I finished my soup and headed back upstairs to schedule dinner at an American restaurant with friends.

MLIA. Average and oh so deliciously Korean.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Toto, I've A Feeling We're Not in [Maryland] Anymore!

Oh man. I know I've been updating significantly more often than normal, but there has just been a lot going on. Don't get too excited.  Or used to it!

A lot of things have been springing up this week that just seem to be reminding me how different of a place I am than last year at this time. Korea is a lot of things: good, random, and negative. Some of them have just been more obvious this week than before.

On Tuesday I watched a teacher (who will remain nameless, not that you know them) kick a student, full force, in the shin. The kid had been acting up in class and was in the middle of his punishment. This particular punishment had been holding his ears with both hands and doing squats in front of the class, facing the board. He was laughing and apparently not taking his punishment seriously enough. So she kicked him with her school sandals, hard enough to make his eyes well up. Craaaaazy. Um, seriously, could you even dream of that happening in the states? The teacher would have a suit filed against them faster than the child could call their parents. So that's the bad.

Then we have the random.  There are always little blips of misunderstandings and miscommunications that pepper my days.  Yesterday I went down to the English room to teach my first and second grade returners.  We usually lock the door, but since I have class in there on Tuesday afternoons we just leave it open.  I walked in to find to young girls (about first grade) hanging out.  They were playing, coloring on the board, etc.  It was clear that they were quite comfortable.  After about 5 minutes of talking to them and getting only blank stares and giggles in response to me saying "I don't think you're supposed to be here...." I gave up.  I waited about another 5 minutes for my class to arrive, figuring I could have one of them translate for me when they got there.  No kids.  Finally I go down to my office and get the one teacher I recognize (classroom teachers use our office during their planning time).  I say "So, can you think of any reason why my first and second grade returners wouldn't have come to class today?"  The response: "Oh, because first grade is not in school because of the flu." 

What?  Yeah.  Apparently the whole first grade was banned from school because there were too many kids with the good old in-ploo-en-suh.  My co-worker said she doesn't know when they'll be back, but they definitely weren't there yesterday.  My returner class must have been included in that.  And everyone forgot to mention that to me.  RANDOM.  I ended up having her come back to the English class with me and we determined that the two girls were first graders whose parents had sent them for after school.  Now there is usually an after school hagwon program run in the English room on afternoons, but they don't start until 1:30pm on Tuesdays because I have class in there.  These parents had sent their kids early, to hang out unsupervised, even though they were banned from school because of flu.  Awesome.  I stand firm in my beliefs that we will never kill this flu (no matter how many weeks we close down schools) as long as kids are still allowed to attend hagwons multiple nights a week where they simply trade around germs with kids from other schools.  Oh Korea, you never cease to amaze me.

Then we have the good: TODAY IS PEPERO DAY!


What, you may be asking, is Pepero Day? Just about the greatest fake holiday ever. Basically, people exchange boxes of cookie sticks dipped in chocolate. It is kind of like Valentine's Day, but not just reserved for romantic couples. You give them to friends, teachers, coworkers, etc. They are manufactured by Lotte (surprise surprise) and were basically created to rip off the Japanese Pocky sticks.

There are a couple questionable (and therefore awesome) things about this holiday. It is celebrated on November 11, because it is said that 11/11 resembles (you guessed it) five little Pepero sticks, all lined up. I love the following Wikipedia quote: "Lotte denies starting the holiday and instead states that they noticed a bump in Pepero sales around November 11th and after continued popularity they decided to then encourage the holiday with special gift boxes and other promotions."

Really, Lotte? You're really going to stick with "we just decided to encourage it"? Awesome. Second is their story of how it actually began: "According to one story, Pepero Day was started in 1994 by students at a girls' middle school in Busan, where they exchanged Pepero sticks as gifts to wish one another to grow "as tall and slender as a Pepero"." BAHAHAHAHAHA. Nothing says "I hope you stay skinny" like boxes upon boxes of chocolate covered cookie sticks. Why does this make me think of the "weight loss bars" in Mean Girls? I love it.

I sampled like 5 different flavors thanks to gifts from kids.  These are ones I bought yesterday to try.  The naked (far right) was decent, the chocolate (middle) was good, and the chocolate almond (left) is to DIE FOR.  Nom nom nom like its my job.

But seriously, this is marketing GENIUS. The guy who thought this one up must be rolling in the dough. According to this article, Lotte made FORTY SEVEN MILLION U.S. DOLLARS on Pepero last year. That is an insane amount of money spent on a FAKE holiday.

I invite you to enjoy these two YouTube videos in which the Native English Speaker goes from cynical and jaded (video 1) to excited and crazed (video 2). Thus the magic of Pepero Day.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cross Buddhist Monk/Nun Off Possible Career List!

Ooookay. Where to begin?

I guess that I'll start with a little word association. Had I been asked to choose two words to describe the temple stay BEFORE I went, I would have said "restful relaxation." Now that it is over, were I asked to choose two words, they would be "painful exhaustion." HOLY CRAP. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I met up with Erich, Laura and Julia at the Seoul Station metro stop and we walked over to pick up our tickets and grab some last minute drinks/snacks before boarding the train. We were a little confused as to where exactly we turned in our print out to get the real tickets, but it turns out you just take it up to the regular ticket counter and they'll switch them for you. We boarded our train which had pretty decently comfortable seats and settled in for the ride ahead of us. Laura and Erich, the antsy duo, spent a while walking up and down the train cars and checking out what was going on with everyone else. Julia and I chilled in our seats and talked about our schools, lives, etc. It was great to hang out with her! We haven't seen each other since orientation and it was really good to catch up. Our train spirited us down to Daegu at 308 kmph (about 191mph) and it took under 2 hours to get there. The KTX is definitely a more than decent mode of transportation.

We arrived in Daegu and getting off the train we picked up Dana and Ayzia as we walked towards the exit. I had called Brigid asking where we were meeting at the Dongdaegu station and in her words "This isn't exactly Heathrow Airport in Love Actually. There is one exit. You'll see us." When we walked out Natasha was holding a sign with my name on it like a chauffeur. Those asses, haha.

We headed out to the taxi line and took out the one paper that we had bearing the address of the "Hotel the Palace" (yes, that is the actual name of the hotel) where we were staying. I showed our driver who nodded in acknowledgement, and then gave the paper to the people in the other car so that they could give it to their cab driver. As we zipped off to the hotel we quickly became separated from the other cab. Then it became clear that our cab driver did not, in fact, know where he was going. And he needed the address to put in his GPS. That was in the other cab. I called Erich who said that his cabbie "looked pissed" so he wouldn't put him on the phone to give our cab driver directions. I finally ended up calling the hotel and having the woman at the front desk give directions. Aigh.

We arrived at the hotel which was quite nice, considering that it was only 65,000won a night (around $50) and there was a double and a twin bed in each room. Since the max number of people we had in a room was 3, it was great because no one needed to sleep on the floor. It was kind of perfect....thick curtains that blocked out all light, a wonderful air conditioner that kept our room a crisp 18C, and a shower...with a DOOR! The first one I've seen/used since I left orientation. Exciting stuff.

After dropping our stuff we headed downstairs to ask the front desk where we could go get galbi (grilled meat) which we had heard Daegu was famous for. A random man offered to walk us down to the andong galbi restaurant which was like a 10 minute walk away from the hotel. There were two galbi places right next to each other, and the #1 restaurant had a half hour wait at least. At this point I was pretty sure I had already started to digest my own stomach, and others were hungry as well, so we settled for the #2 restaurant, which also offered some vegetarian options for Julia. The galbi was good, but not mind blowing. It was about the same quality as Brigid's galbi place, but the quantity was waaaaay lower. Anyway, for around $12 a person we had a ton of grilled meat, sides, and a copious amount of soju and beer. We were the only foreigners there and I think we brought a little color and entertainment to the establishment. The older trio at the table next to us definitely enjoyed our montage of Asian poses.

Damn you Dana for making your Asian pose way cuter than Erich's and mine!

After dinner we headed home and Brigid and I went to bed. I figured that since I probably wouldn't be getting much sleep on Saturday night I would just sleep in and enjoy the hotel on Saturday morning rather than going out sight seeing. It had sounded like everyone else was planning on waking up earlyish and heading out to see some of Daegu. On Friday night after we went to bed, the rest of those crazy kids went exploring for a bit, and then Dana, Laura and Erich went out clubbing in Daegu until like 3:45am. Insanity! I would have died.

Saturday morning we slept in (the room was cold and dark like a cave...perfect). And finally got moving around 11:30am to head out to the bus terminal. I had received a text message from Natasha saying "Hi. We went to herbal market and checked out. Seobu Bus Station at 1pm. We will call you." So Brigid and I collect our stuff and check out before walking around for a while trying to find a Dunkin Donuts or somewhere equally acceptable to eat breakfast. After not finding anything, we decided just to get a cab and hope for something to eat near the terminal. I flagged down a cab and said to the driver "Seobu Bus Terminal?" He gave me a blank look. Then I remembered that if you Konglish it up a bit, the driver will often understand better. So, feeling like an idiot, I said "Um...Seobu Bus-uh Ter-mi-nal-uh?" He nodded instantly and off we went. Thanks Konglish!

Right as we were being dropped off, I got a call from Erich.

Him: Uh, are you still at the hotel?
Me: No, we just pulled up to the bus terminal. Where are you?
Him: At the hotel.

Yeah, thanks Natasha. No where in that text did she indicate that Erich was STILL AT THE HOTEL. Aigh. I felt terrible about leaving him there and making him take a cab to the terminal by himself, but there was really nothing I could do about it. Brigid and I found a Dunkin Donuts right by the terminal and had some delicious breakfast (mmmm blueberry bagel with cream cheese....). I was also fascinated by the different kinds of donuts and fillings they had. They're doing some international donut promotion with "healthy" (read: totally gross) donuts from 5 countries. The only ones I really remember are Lentil Cocoa (from India) and the KIMCHI CROQUETTE from South Korea. Whaaaat. WHYYYYY. Why would I want kimchi wrapped up in a tasty baked shell? Terrible.
Anyways, we met up with the rest of our group at the bus station and hung out for a little while until it was time to board the bus-o-foreigners headed towards Haeinsa. It was about an hour and a half to the drop off location, and the end especially was really beautiful as we wound through these little roads surrounded by colorful leaves. I had read online that the walk to the temple was about a half hour. As I said to the people going "I don't know if that is ajumma speed, or four inch heels speed." Um, four inch heels speed. It was all uphill and uneven steps and it took us about 45 minutes to get up to the temple. And by that time we were exhausted. Obviously. We joked then that they could offer this as a workout weekend (little did we know...). Buddha's Belly Buster Workout Weekend!
Walking up the mountain to Haeinsa.

Steep, but pretty.

You walked through three gates (and up a million steps) to prepare yourself to enter the temple.

Beautiful gates, as per usual.
They were masters of steep ass stair cases.  Without handrails, of course.

When we checked in they gave us our "monk wear" uniforms to put on. Dark gray shirt and hammer pants that were made out of like a sweatshirt material. Knowing that pretty much nothing in Korea is made anywhere CLOSE to my size, I brought some comfy black pants and thin, dark blue hoodie to wear, just in case. Even though I've lost about 25 lbs here, I am still like 8x the size of the average Korean. I was quickly proven right when the stuff they gave me wouldn't fit. As soon as I went upstairs and the three monks came in, the mean older one in charge pointed at me and asked why I wasn't wearing the uniform. Thanks, for making me stand out more and feel more self conscious, Mean Monk. Thanks a bunch!

There were 20 of us there- the 8 of us, 3 girls who were friends from England who teach in Daegu, a Swedish girl named Cecelia who was an exchange student in Seoul, a creepy/suspicious Spaniard who claimed be an artist, 5 Korean women and 2 Korean men.

Soon Mean Monk left and we split into two tour groups- English and Korean. We went off on a tour with Jason the Monk, a super awesome guy. He grew up in Korea, but attended high school in Princeton, NJ and college at Washington University in St. Louis. He was like a total regular American college student. he liked going out clubbing and was majoring in Marketing. After college he got into a really bad car accident in the US and started thinking about what he was doing with his life. He then decided to come back to Korea and be a Buddhist monk. After becoming a monk at another temple, he applied to come to Haeinsa and go to the "Monk University" there (he's currently a junior). He was fantastic. He was so full of joy and it was totally clear that he was exactly where he wanted to be. He honestly answered basically all of our questions and told us some really random stuff.

Jason, the coolest monk ever, in front of the giant bell used in the morning ceremonies.

Haeinsa is like a really hardcore temple. It is one of the three jewel temples of Korea and the training program they have for monks there is serious business. I think one of the major things I learned this weekend was that being a monk is really a heck of a lot like joining a frat. Except without the alcohol. There are people who want to become monks who work and serve the monks by cooking and cleaning for them before they're allowed to study there (rushes). The freshmen are treated like absolute crap. You're not allowed to speak your entire freshman year, the older monks get to make you do anything they want, you don't have any privacy, and the older monks literally go out of their way to make your life full of suffering so you will leave (sound like pledging to anyone else?). They figure that they might as well weed you out in the beginning if you're going to leave anyway. They do stuff like make the freshmen stand in the dark and bow each time they hear their name...for like an hour at night when they're already exhausted. It is TOTALLY hazing. The higher you get, the more privileges you have. It was very interesting.

On the tour of the temple grounds, he showed us the various buildings where monks lived, some small temples on the grounds that also cover Korean shamanism and various threads of Buddhism (like a Zen temple). We got to see Dharma Hall where the major ceremonies take place, and the location of the morning ceremony- with its HUGE drum, bell, and fish chime. We also headed up to the tippytop of the temple where the Tripitaka Koreana, which is a huge collection of over 80,000 hand carved wood blocks with Buddhist teachings on them. Both the blocks and the building that surrounds them are on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Jason the Monk pointed out that when you think of other man made world heritage sites, you probably think of things like the Great Wall. But the Great Wall was built by slaves. The Tripitaka was an honor for hundreds of monks to create over 16 painstaking years. It was a labor of love and it has survived in near perfect condition for over 750 years. The building was specially designed with materials that would protect the wooden blocks. A new high tech facility was being tested to be built a couple of years ago and when blocks were moved, they began to decay and mildew. When they were replaced in the original structure, they were fine again. Crazy and awesome.

After the tour we headed down to dinner (all natural, vegan foods with no garlic, red peppers or onions that create "too much energy in the monks"). Then we went to a ceremony with chanting and bowing at Dharma Hall. Before we went, we were taught the proper steps to doing a Korean Buddhist bow. It is difficult to explain, so I found this video online that demonstrates exactly what you are supposed to do.

It is...athletic. When you go into the temple, you do three bows. Then there is bowing during the ceremony. Then three bows before you leave. The first night we did maybe 15 bows, and I was already feeling it in my knees.

When that ceremony was over, we went down to the practice hall and had tea with Jason, Mean Monk, and an adorable young little monk who just sat there smiling. During the tea ceremony we all introduced ourselves and had a question and answer session. The mean monk must have been TERRIBLE for Jason to translate for. He talked and talked and talked without pause for translation. At one point, he literally gave a TWENTY-ONE minute answer to a single question one of the Korean ladies asked. As Jason said at the end "Umm...what he just said in about 15 minutes, I'm going to condense into 30 seconds." The tea was good, but it is really hard to remain focused on someone speaking when you literally don't understand a single word they're saying.

After tea, we were sent off to bed with the promise (threat?) of being woken at 2:50am to prepare for the morning ceremonies. We headed back downstairs to our rooms where we opened windows (thanks to the ondol heating, it was a bajillion degrees in there!) and created little nests of blankets on the floor to sleep on. The lights went off around 9:30pm and I laid there awake. My iPod was upstairs in my purse (locked in the safe) so I was basically just laying there, staring at the ceiling, slowly losing my mind. All of a sudden, I tune into the noises I can hear through our open window. Now we were basically in the basement of the building with the practice room and offices we had been in earlier. Our windows opened into a little corridor that was topped with a rain drainage grate that opened across the sidewalk from the practice rooms/offices. Kind of hard to explain, but you could hear everything going on upstairs perfectly. I hear someone running, which I thought was weird, and knocking on a door upstairs. Then banging. It is the Spaniard, and he's kind of frantic. He's speaking his heavily accented English to the Korean girl running the show and saying something is wrong with Cecilia, the Swede. Around this time I notice that I haven't seen Cecilia in our room, which is odd, because we're segregated into two rooms by sex. I hear the Korean girl say "Do we need to call an ambulance?" and the Spaniard says "Well she can't move!" Consider my interest piqued. I got up to get my glasses and see if anyone else had heard anything. Natasha also got up and we decided to go investigate. I would say that the time elapsed between hearing this conversation and actually going upstairs was 7-10 minutes MAXIMUM. We go upstairs and try to figure out where we are hearing this stuff from. That took us, maybe, another 5 minutes. Then I hear rustling in the office and poke my head in. The Korean girl is going through the bags in the safe, obviously looking for a specific bag.

Me: Hey, is everything okay with Cecilia?
Her: (suspiciously) Where did you hear about that?
Me: We could hear it through our window. We wanted to come see if there was anything we could do.
Her: We called an ambulance. She will be okay. All you can do is go to bed. You're not supposed to be out walking around at night. (Which, to be fair, we were never told, though it was kind of implied.)
Natasha and I took the hint and headed back to our room (after I got my iPod) and tried to go back to sleep. It took me more than another hour, so it was probably around 11:30pm by the time I actually fell into a fitful sleep. I would say I got a max of 2 hours of sleep the whole night. And by "the whole night" I mean "until we were woken at 2:50am. I put my hair up, popped some medicine so I could breathe, and we walked up to the meeting place at 3:15am. It was one of the first times I've seen stars in Korea, and definitely the first time I could pick out constellations (holla at Orion!).

Giant drum that starts the morning ceremony.

The morning ceremony starts at 3:18am and 45 seconds. No joke. First they beat the drum in order to wake up the animals. There is a freshman performer, followed by a sophomore and a junior. Each performance increases in difficulty and it was really quite awesome. Then they ring the gigantic bell to wake up the heavenly beings. The fish chime wakes the fish and the birds. We left after the drumming and as the bell rang out we walked up to Dharma Hall for a chanting ceremony. Once again we did a bunch of bows. The chanting was quite beautiful, but about 20 bows in, I began to feel really sick in addition to the massive pain in my legs. I felt bad leaving in the middle of the ceremony, but I was pretty certain I was going to throw up and I didn't think it would be a great idea to do it IN the Dharma Hall. Lo and behold, about 30 seconds after I make it outside I'm puking behind a Buddhist temple. Awkward. I felt terrible. I had broken out in a cold sweat, I was super nauseated and just overall gross. A few minutes later, Brigid came out and said "Man, do you feel like you're going to throw up too?" I was like "I already did." We sat for a little while outside getting some air until the ceremony was over and walked back down to the practice hall with everyone else. The next item up on the schedule was 108 bows (yeah, EXACTLY what it sounds like...and clearly exactly what I needed...) and 45 minutes of intense meditation. I don't think I would have been physically able to do the 108 bows even if I felt in top shape, but I was certain I would die if I attempted them. So I told the girl in charge that I was going downstairs to lay down and Brigid went down as well. I set up a new bed, threw up again, and slept for about 5 hours. I am fairly certain that I got so sick because I took the Tylenol ER, Sudafed and Tamiflu on an empty stomach. I missed the 108 bows, meditation, breakfast and a hike. And I honestly believe, without any question in my mind, that I made the correct choice. I woke up feeling much better.

After I got up, I went upstairs to make the prayer beads with everyone else and we got to have another heart to heart with Jason the Monk. He was seriously just such an awesome person. I want to hang out with him more. We got his e-mail address and I think we're going to send him some chocolates (one of the few pleasures monks can still indulge in) as a thank you for taking care of us all weekend. We were discussing the bowing and he said he couldn't really do the 108 bows anymore because a while ago he had to have surgery on his knee. After that he committed some infraction (the ONE thing he refused to tell us was WHAT he did) and his punishment was THREE THOUSAND bows per day for SEVEN DAYS in a row. That takes almost 20 hours a day to complete. He had mentioned this punishment earlier and said a possible cause for it was getting into a fist fight with another monk. But I can't imagine him doing it. I am intrigued.

Laura and Dana showing off their beads as the quieter monk helped others finish theirs.

It was also during this time that we learned the most bizarre thing of the entire weekend: what had happened to Cecilia. Apparently after we had gone to bed, she and the Spaniard had gone off together to do...who knows what. It is unclear whether they were hooking up, just enjoying nature, or whatever. What IS clear is that they went behind the Zen Temple, an area forbidden even to most of the monks living at Haeinsa, and while walking in the dark she FELL OFF A TEN FOOT CLIFF AND BROKE HER BACK.


Thankfully she's basically fine and really just fractured her vertebrae, but seriously, I could not write this stuff. The monks were laughing as they told us that she'd had "too much love" and you had to be careful of that! They laughed because she was fine, beginning a trend which we would follow the rest of the weekend. Many a cliff falling joke was made before returning to Seoul. We'd all be sitting around and out of the blue someone would say "Dude...I can't believe she FELL off a CLIFF." Insane.

After making our prayer beads and hanging out for a while it was time to head out into the POURING rain to collect our stuff before grabbing lunch. Natasha and Brigid headed out on the 12:40pm bus but the rest of us putzed around the temple for a while, and stopped at the gift shop before leaving on the 1:20pm bus back to Daegu. During this time Ayzia and I also wrote our wishes on roof tiles.  You pay a couple of bucks and write your wish on tiles that are then used to re-roof the buildings.  New roofs are put on every 30-40 yeas, so your wish stays up there all that time.  I thought it was an awesome idea. 

Group pic...minus Brigid.
Ayzia, Juia, Erich, Jason, Natasha, Me, Dana and Laura

Practice Hall

My ceiling tile wish:  Good friends, great memories, unforgettable adventures, and love that never loses its way home.

Temple rooftops.

When we arrived back in Daegu we grabbed some taxis (and got caught behind an accident on the busy roads) that took us over to the Dongdaegu KTX Station. We chilled there for a while and ate some dinner before boarding the 5:10pm train that spirited us back to our home in Seoul. Just going up and down the subway stairs almost killed my aching legs, but I made it home to Gil-Dong (where our freaking escalator is under repair! grrrrrrrr) and basically collapsed as I walked into my very messy apartment. After talking to my mom for a bit on video chat I crashed.

This morning my alarm just barely did its job and I came very close to falling back asleep after the last time I turned it off, which would have been BAD. Thankfully I only had to teach 3 classes today (of a usual 4) because of some observation schedule I didn't know about. Fine with me! I almost wept when forced to walk up and down the 3 flights of stairs for lunch. My thighs are in a crapton of painnnn. I am looking forward to going home and relaxing tonight. I am continuously glad that I don't have after school on Mondays, as I often need to be eased back into the week.