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.


  1. so that temple thing sounds great and all, but i am mainly impressed (#1) and/or amazed (#2) by two things:

    #1. 25 pounds lost?!

    #2. a cliff? seriously?

    <3 shannon

  2. 1. yeah apparently. i don't really see it, though my grandmother claims to. but the scale at the doctor's office doesn't lie i guess. who knew that living off ramen and taking (literally) 600 steps a day during your commute was such a great fitness regimine?

    2. SERIOUSLY. a CLIFF. i still can't believe it.