The temple stay was amazing and totally unlike anything we expected. It was totally relaxed and in fact felt completely average, which I loved. Though we didn't witness hardcore monks and strict meditation regimes, we did get to witness everyday people practising the religion as they always do.
We didn't see the head monk much because he was on a self imposed sabbatical for one month inside the temple, but everyone else was so friendly. Everyone helps to cook and clean up, and in between meals and meditation you have time to walk or read or just talk to people. There was one other girl staying their besides us, as well as a guy from Australia who was the acting english coordinator (though he had only been in Korea for 2 weeks!)
Both of them were super nice, and it was really a great way to spend New Years Eve. It felt like we were among old friends.
Ian: It's unfortunate we didn't get to talk to the head monk, as he was supposed to speak quite good English, and would have been able to explain more about the religion to us. Also, he is currently working on his second doctoral degree... this one relating Buddhism to astro-physics. Occasionally we would see him wander out of his small shack at the back, and stroll around the grounds. But for the most part he remained in his quarters. Others at the temple would bring him a tray with food 3 times a day, and leave it behind a small curtain at his front door. Later they would pick up the empty dishes and return them to the kitchen. So, decidedly either a genius or a madman, but either way I was much intrigued by this character.
We talked to one woman who had left her 13 year old son at the temple for a few days. It was so interesting to hear her describe how she handles her son. I guess he was not doing as well as he could at school, and not focusing, and basically, well, being a teenager. She got frustrated with it finally and decided to drop him off at the temple for a few days to "think about his life, and where he is going". It was so funny, because we all just though, man...I'd have just gotten sent to my room....
She was just so cool and calm about it, like everything would work itself out, and he just needed time to himself to focus and think about his future. It was so perfectly zen. I loved it.
Anyways, the following are some pictures from the temple. This first one is of the main building. It has 3 floors, and the second one is where the meditations are done, and is also where the rest of the pictures are taken.
It's a bit of an oddity as far as temples go. Most are only 2 stories tall, in Korea. It also seemed a bit disappointingly modern to me at first.... There was a t.v. inside, and full electricity. I was expecting a complete absence of modern material things. But, like Tara said, nothing here was what we expected, yet we had a great time.
This is the front of the meditation area. Each Buddha is making a different hand gesture (mantra, I think), and each symbolizes something different.
I mean.... Ommmmmmm.
It was interesting because a lot of the Korean Buddhist figures look quite scary, almost demon like. This picture captures many of Buddha's disciples.
The walls were lines with thousands of these little Buddha's, each with a different gesture. People who practice at this temple, or people who stay at the temple, are given a card on which to write their name. Then they get to pick a Buddha on the wall, and place the card in front of it. This ones mine! I know its a bad picture but it was dark, and a bit out of my reach!
If you don't believe it, I've got both of our buddhas recorded on the video from Korea. COMING SOON!!!
Moving on the the DMZ:
The weather was horrible that day, and we couldn't really see anything which was a disappointment, but I did learn a lot more than I knew about the conflict between North and South Korea.
The first stop we made was to the Peace Bridge, or the Bridge to Freedom. After the war ended, this bridge was the only one left connecting the North and South across the river that divides them. They used this bridge to send home prisoners of war, and civilians who had been separated from their families. Because of this, it is a huge landmark in Korean history.
The bridge is obviously cut off at a certain point but many people who are still separated from their families have left mementos at the end.
After the Peace Bridge we made our way to the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel. Unfortunately through most of the day we could not take a lot of pictures so we don't have any great shots. But we did learn some rather interesting facts. There were two that struck me as the funniest.
First a short short history lesson. After the war ended, Korea created the DMZ zone to protect both sides from chance of further battle. Basically where the border separates the country in half, on either side there is a 2 kilometer strip of land where civilians are not allowed, and which is guarded by Korean military and the UN. This is the DMZ. After the DMZ was created, and promises were made of no more war, North Korea decided to try to tunnel their way into the south. Now, they tried this in total 4 times. When SK found the 3rd tunnel, they finally asked NK "why do you keep trying to attack us?? We had an agreement!" Apparently NK responded by saying "we weren't trying to attack you! The tunnel is just a coal mine!"
Now, SK decided to check this out, and found not only was there no coal in the area (contrary to the insistence of NK), but NK actually painted the tunnel black in hopes that they could 'trick' SK into thinking is was a coal mine.
So for those of you who have seen Team America: World Police... well, you know I used to think they were just picking on Kim Jong-Il in that movie, but it's possible that he really IS as crazy as they depict. Painting rocks black to pretend they're coal???? I mean, that sounds like something the guys from South Park would make up!! That has to be the most half-baked scheme ever!!
And as if this is not enough. Though they denied it for some time, eventually NK gave in and apologized. Then when SK opened the tunnel to tour groups a few years ago, NK kicked up a huge stink about it. They said they didn't want it open to the public, and made a huge protest out of it. SK of course would not give in and said too bad, its on our side! When NK realized they couldn't stop SK, they then demanded to get half the profits!! "We made the tunnel!!!" They argued with SK. Therefore we should get some of the profit. Of course SK said no, but I mean....come on. Who else thinks the NK government sounds like an insolent 4 year old? I think Kim Jong Il is ACTUALLY crazy.
Anyways, back to the pictures. At the observation deck there was unfortunately not much to observe given the fogginess of the day, and this is about all of North Korea I could see. We also couldn't get any closer than this with our cameras. We could see a bit more (the North Korean Flag, one of their villages, etc), but we couldn't get close enough with the camera.
Yay grey nothingness!
Thus, unfortunately, as far as I can tell, there still is no such thing as North Korea. These tour groups could have driven me anywhere and said "We swear North Korea is that way....it's just too foggy to see."
It was pretty heavily guarded though...South Korean soldiers were standing around with rifles, and we had to go through several military check points. Oh, that reminds me; apparently both the South and North put their tallest most attractive soldiers at the boarder, in order to intimidate or entice the other side. They also had an unspoken contest wherein they battled to create the BIGGEST national flag....in the end the North Koreans won, and actually constructed what may be the largest national flag in the world. Well, hot dawg! It's time to convert to the commie-nism!
This was a bit of a spooky place. The train station built in the DMZ which is supposed to allow passenger trains going through South Korea, up into North Korea, and connecting with the rest of the Asian and Siberian rail systems. Kim Jong Il agreed to the building of the station, so South Korea went ahead with it. Unfortunately just as South Korea finished it, Kim Jong Il decided he no longer liked the idea, and its a bit of a ghost station now. There are military guards inside, though I think they are mostly there for show. It was so deserted though.
Much of the area has been turned into a profitable touristy place. They maintain the station as though it will be used in the near future. You could even pay about $5 to purchase a train ticket to North Korea.....which of course could not be redeemed for anything. The gentle propaghanda videos we watched in the observation area decry the pain of the divided country (which I'm sure is a painful thing for many Korean families), however it did really feel like they were playing up the sympathy for the sappy Western tourists.
Ok, thats all for now. I think one more post should cover the rest of Korea, so look out for it in the next few days. After that, it will be time to see the new house (we went to it this weekend and it ROCKS! I'm so excited!!).
Hope you like the pics!! I miss everyone!!
p.s. Tara keeps posting pictures while I'm at work, that's why my comments are just pasted into her post. But I should have some video from South Korea to show soon... I've been working on creating a DVD collection of our greatest hits of 2006, which is now finally completed. But it should be back to editing the new videos soon. Much more to come in the near future!