Sunday, August 29, 2010
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Amazing post, and so inspirational. I want to start training again. :)
I agree with the author here, the tunnel at the DMZ really isn't that exciting, but I had fun anyway
Here's the excerpt:
Excerpt: '101 Places Not To See Before You Die'
101 Places Not To See Before You Die
By Catherine Price
Paperback, 272 pages
List price: $13.99
An Overnight Stay at a Korean Temple
In theory, an overnight stay at a Korean temple sounds like the perfect activity for anyone struggling to escape the pressures of modern life. You'll meditate, you'll learn about Buddhism, you'll go vegetarian. Concerns and cares will slip away as you drift into a blissful state of conscious awareness.
Unfortunately, that's not what it's like.
I signed up for one of these sleepovers through a program called Templestay. Created in 2002 by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism — the largest Buddhist order in Korea — the Templestay program aims to allow visitors to "sample ordained lifestyle and experience the mental training and cultural experience of Korea's ancient Buddhist tradition." In other words, it's a chance to test-drive life as a monk.
The meditation center I visited, about two hours from Seoul on Ganghwa Island, seemed like the sort of place that could inspire calm. The grounds are nestled between rice paddies and a leafy forest, and the center's brightly painted temple sits several stone steps up from a gentle brook and a small pond stocked with lotus flowers and koi.
When my friend and I arrived — several hours late, thanks to trouble reading the bus schedule — the Templestay coordinator introduced herself in fluent English and led us to the room where we'd be staying. It was empty except for sleeping pads, blankets, and small pillows stuffed with plastic beads. After we'd dropped off our bags, she handed us our clothes for the weekend: two identical extra-large sets of baggy gray pants and vests, along with sun hats and blue plastic slippers. We looked like we'd stepped out of a propaganda poster for Maoist China.
I'd assumed that most temple life involved sitting still and cultivating enlightenment, but instead our first activity was community work time. Clad in our Mao suits, we followed the coordinator to the garden, where eight other Templestay guests squatted between raised rows of dirt, piles of potatoes scattered around them. They gave us hostile glances as we approached — thanks to our late arrival, they'd been forced to harvest potatoes for three hours in eighty-degree heat. I couldn't blame them for their animosity; if I'd been digging in the dirt while some assholes took the slow route to Ganghwa Island, I'd be pretty pissed off too. But such negativity seemed to go against the spirit of the retreat. I adjusted my sun hat and joined them in the field.
After we'd assumed our squatting positions, the coordinator explained that we were supposed to sort the potatoes into piles of small, medium, and large — and then left without demonstrating what the Buddhist definition of "small" was. After a half hour spent tossing any potato smaller than a golf ball into a nearby box, I looked up to find a monk standing above me, examining my work. I smiled. Expressionless, he picked up my box and emptied it onto the ground.
It was time for meditation.
Once we'd learned the correct way to arrange our shoes outside the temple door, the Templestay coordinator demonstrated how to prostrate according to the Korean Buddhist tradition: kneel down, touch your forehead to the floor, and rest your hands, palms upward, on the ground. Then do it all in reverse, like a movie playing backward. Repeat, ideally several hundred times.
To me, the main value of the prostration practice was as a quadriceps exercise, but any improvement in the shape of my thighs was mitigated by the pain it caused in my arthritic knees. I had plenty of time to reflect on this discomfort when we followed our prostrations with a meditation: sitting in silence for a half hour, a slight breeze blowing through the open doors at our back as if beckoning us to escape.
After a slow walking meditation through the temple grounds, a vegetarian dinner, calligraphy practice, and a discussion on meditation led by the temple's head monk (I spent most of the time killing mosquitoes and then feeling guilty about the karmic implications), we were sent back to our rooms to get rest before our 3:30 a.m. wake-up call. Lying on the floor, still dressed in my Mao suit, I fidgeted till 1:30.
Two hours later, the sound of the mokt'ak — a wooden percussion instrument played every morning to start the temple's day — jolted me awake. I pulled myself up from my floor mat and stumbled through the predawn darkness to the temple, where pink lotus lanterns illuminated a small group of people inside, creating the kind of picture you would send home to friends to make them feel jealous about the exotic experiences you had while on vacation.
There is a difference, however, between postcards and reality. For example, no one sends postcards at 3:30 in the morning. Nor do most people's vacation plans involve getting out of bed in the middle of the night to sit for a half hour in silence with their eyes closed. I watched through cracked eyelids as the Templestay coordinator repeatedly jerked herself awake just before tipping over, like a commuter on an early-morning subway train. I was close to succumbing to the same fate myself when I noticed something that kept me awake: a gigantic beetle crawling on a lotus lantern hanging above my head. This beetle was easily the size of a large fig; having it fall on my head would have been the equivalent of being smacked by a mouse. I began to focus my attention entirely on the beetle, sending prayers into the ether for its secure footing.
My prayers worked — the beetle remained aloft, and we were eventually allowed to go back outside. After sneaking a cup of instant coffee with a Venezuelan couple, I pulled myself through another walking meditation and followed the other participants to the main room for a Buddhist meal ceremony. A highly choreographed process of place-setting, serving, and eating, it included a final inspection by a head monk to see if our bowls were clean. "You do not want to disappoint him," said the coordinator. "Doing so would reflect poorly."
She then walked us through what would take place during the meal ceremony, including a final cleansing: we were to take a piece of pickled radish and use it to swab our dishes. This caught the attention of a young Canadian woman.
"I'm sorry to interrupt," she said. "But how is wiping my bowl with a radish going to make it clean? What about germs?"
"We fill the bowls with very hot water," said the coordinator, sidestepping the question. "So when you use the radish, the bowl is already very clean."
"Is it, like, a hygienic radish?" asked the Canadian woman.
"Yes," said the coordinator. "It is a hygienic radish."
Things went downhill from there. Exhausted and cranky, one by one we began refusing to play monk. If one of the whole points of Buddhism was to cultivate acceptance, why, I asked, did we have to go through such an elaborate meal ceremony? The Venezuelan couple went a step further: they left.
Wishing that we had the same kind of courage, my friend and I instead counted down the hours until we returned to Seoul, and upon arrival treated ourselves to a bottle of wine. Several days later, the Templestay coordinator e-mailed the weekend's participants and invited us to a workshop to perform three thousand prostrations to "inspire yourself into practice." The idea sounded horrifying, but it reminded me how difficult it would be to live like a monk. Which, as the coordinator suggested, may have been the point.
Excerpted from 101 Places Not To See Before You Die by Catherine Price. Copyright 2010 by Catherine Price. Excerpted by permission of Harper Paperbacks.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Set… turn down the shouting voices of opposition and take a few quiet moments to center yourself.
Today’s prompt: What things does your character believe in so strongly, that she is willing to fight for them? Write a scene in which this belief puts her at odds with someone she cares about. OR What are you willing to fight for? What are you secretly a supporter of, but you are looking for the courage to speak up about?
I'm going to do these prompts soon enough, but I just want to say how thrilled I am for BANNED BOOK MONTH. September 2010. Go forth and don't censor. Write.
Sadly, I'm only at 15. I will get there. So many books, so little time. Today, I am working my way through Confessions of a Shopoholic (don't judge, I need my light chicklit here people) and will get though Judy Blume's Forever.
I'm such a YA dork.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
How condescending is this? I know it's another culture, and I know they don't believe in substitute teachers here, but for real? I was then escorted to the clinic, where I was told after less than five minutes of examination that I have the flu (I could have told you that) and mild bronchitis. The female doctor spoke very good English and didn't hesitate to write me a prescription for FIVE different medications.
Most of which I suspect are very heavy doses of pain medications. I received these in individual packages of pills, so now I look like a drug dealer, LOL. For crying out loud, I want to do is sleep. Any other country would promote rest for healing, but not in KOREA. Jesus. So yeah, I contaminated I don't want to know how many children today. No, I couldn't go home. It's been a day folks. Keepin' it real.
Upshot? A visit to the doctor will have you waiting no longer than ten minutes and have you paying no more than $3.60 for the doctor and $4 for the meds. America can take a lesson here. Not sure if this is because my health insurance is super good or because Korea is just that cheap, but I don't question such things.
Also, Korean women coworkers aren't afraid to push their tea on you. Tea. Soup. Good for health. Ha.
AND...I love how they thought they were DOING ME A FAVOR by "letting" me skip my first class to go to the doctor. I'll give them that one, I suppose. In the name of compromise. Sheesh. I love this country. I love my life.
1. Pick a color.
2. Write down its name then list ten things that the name or the color itself make you think of.
3. Here’s the tricky part. Write ten verbs that spring to mind when you look at that color or its name.
4. Choose the verbs and nouns that resonate the most with you. Write a scene that uses those things and verbs OR go off on an extended riff about what associations those words create for you.
5. Bonus points: Do the exercise again with a different color. This time, combine the nouns from Color One with the verbs from Color Two.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Who can you write with this weekend?
“WRITE. FINISH THINGS. KEEP WRITING.” Neil Gaiman’s advice for aspiring writers.
Set…. After you make this weekend’s writing date, find a quiet spot and make the world go away.
Today’s prompt: Your character finds a box hidden at the back of her closet. Inside it are things from her childhood that someone saved for her. What is in the box? (Hint – focus on the way things smell.) OR If you found a box of items from your childhood, what would it contain?
Scribble… Scribble… Scribble!!!
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Seriously. I come home from one of the shittier days at my job and read this. How easy would it be when Korean teachers are backing you into a corner to grab a can of soju and jump off the fourth floor of the school?
Before you start panicking, I'm not suicidal. I would never do that. But really. It's a nice fantasy...
Sunday, August 8, 2010
Friday, August 6, 2010
Four Jobs I Have Had:
* Store clerk in a retail shipping store
* Construction worker
Four Places I Have Lived:
* Minneapolis, MN
* Athens, GA
* Marietta, GA
* Charleston, SC
Four Movies I Could Watch Again and Again:
* When Harry Met Sally
* Love, Actually
* Garden State
* Sense and Sensibility
Four Television Shows I Love:
* Designing Women
* Mad Men
* The Office
Four Authors I Enjoy:
* Barbara Kingsolver
* John Green
* Laurie Halse Anderson
* Judy Blume
Four Places I Have Travelled To:
* Seoul, South Korea (obviously)
* Fergie, British Coloumbia
* Xalapa, Mexico
Four Website I Visit Daily:
Four Blogs I Visit Weekly:
Four of My Favorite Foods:
* Peanut Butter
* Ice Cream
Four Places I'd Rather Be:
* Reading a good book
* In an exotic foreign land
* Watching Mad Men
Four People I Want to Tag:
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
I'm on a train to Heulen, Taiwan from Taipei and I must say, traveling by train is definitely a superior way to see the world. I just saw some people working on fields with an endless chain of mountains in the background. This is really UNREAL. The vacation started out well. We stayed in Taipei last night at a hostel called the Chocolate Box Backpacker's Hostel. It was quite charming actually. Taiwan, outside of Taipei, is quite green and full of luscious vegetation. Surprises me because Taipei is such a dirty city.
*******20 minutes passes********
Now we've entered the ocean side portion of this train ride. It's seriously like something out of a movie. And every now and then we'll go through a tunnel and there's the ocean. There are no words here. It's just all too surreal. Pinch me. Am I really here? Really? I guess this is what I wanted when I wanted to travel.
*******A few hours and a bus ride later*******
Taroko Gorge, Eastern Taiwan.
Youth/Family hostel that is actually surprisingly swanky.
Explored the gorge today in 95% humidity.
Green rocks and spiders the size of my hand.
Really pretty butterflies.
Really steep cliffs, but that's a given.
It feels really great to not have any responsibilities or anywhere to be. Also feels great not to be tied down to a computer and the Internet.
Good company. Jeff, Hanna, and Amy make good travel companions just because they are so laid back. We can just chill and enjoy going to an aboriginal village tomorrow and then going to hang out on the beach the next day.
(A note from the future: The aboriginal village doesn't actually exist in Toroko Gorge, but we found out that there is a pretty trashy aboriginal TOURIST TRAP. It was a hilarious travel moment.)
*******After a few train rides and nauseating bus rides...********
Taiwanese people are really nice and almost selfless. I feel really comfortable here. Either that, or we got really lucky. We are watching CNN for the first time since entering Korea over two months ago. Where, might you add? We are in the upstairs of a B&B, which is no different than someone's house. When we entered, we passed the owner's two children sitting on the floor watching TV. They stared at us pretty intensely when we entered. We are waiting until the ferry to Orchid Island comes at 7:30 am tomorrow. By the time we got here, the last ferry had already left (the train ride took a little longer than we budgeted for) and getting this place was an act of God. I feel that we were watched over by a lot of people today.
It's also amazing how traveling like this with no idea where we are going to eat/stay the next night is not for people plagued with anxiety and depression like yours truly. All sorts of internal dialogue got brought up, and I am very proud of working through it the way I did. It taught me that things do work out for the best. I did have to spend a few hours in the B&B alone. I am better now. Oy.
I have one more day's worth of journal entries to post, and I will do that tomorrow or the next day. I hope you enjoy my random ramblings and commentary. I really did enjoy my vacation and wish I were still there. I am back at work this week thinking of our wonderful friends we made and scenery we left behind there. I will be back...to somewhere even more exotic sometime soon! I'm off to plan my next adventure!