Sunday, November 18, 2007

Living the Buddhist Life

Part of my trip to South Korea included a visit to the Baekdamsa Temple in Mt. Sorak National Park. See if you can find the park in at atlas.

The people at the temple must have known we were coming. There was a large sign greeting us as we arrived.

The grounds of the temple are pretty cool. There are a number of wooden temple buildings like the ones I've seen in China, Tibet, and Thailand.

Some have really cool painted roofs. I like all of the bright colors.

And this one houses a shrine for Buddha. It's hard to tell but there are many bags of rice at the feet of Buddha. Kristin says that people are offering the rice to Buddha. I had no idea.

I really wanted to explore the temple buildings but our guides said we had to eat first. Kristin ate a big bowl of rice. Now that I think about it, she's eaten a TON of rice since we've been here. I don't blame her. Some of the other stuff they bring with the rice doesn't look all that great. As soon as we were done with lunch, we had to wash our own plates! Can you believe it?

I hate cleaning dishes! Kristin says she doesn't like to either, but she said it was part of the "experience" of the temple visit. Well I am not impressed!

As soon as Kristin finished cleaning her plate, we walked to another building where they had everyone change into a strange-looking green outfit. The outfit looked a lot like the ones some of the women who were guiding us around were wearing. Hear I am with Kristin and her outfit.

Kristin wore her outfit over her clothes since it was cold and wet outside. They didn't have one in my size (whew!). Shh...don't tell Kristin but I think she looked a bit like a clown in that outfit!

As soon as Kristin and her journalist friends finished changing into their green outfits, they sat down for something called a "tea ceremony." Who knew you had to have a ceremony for tea!

First, Kristin and her friends had to sit on mats on the floor. I've seen Kristin sit on the floor before (in Cairo) but I still have a hard time understanding why people would want to sit on the floor to drink tea.

Kristin sat down in front of a tray that looked like the one above. Soon a woman dressed in what Kristin says is a "traditional outfit" came out to show the group how to make the tea.

I had NO idea making tea could be so hard! There were lots of steps and they had to be done in order. I asked Kristin why there were so many steps to making this tea when all I have to do at home is put a tea bag in a cup of hot water. She smiled and said the tea ceremony is part of the Korean culture. But even Kristin admitted it was hard to remember the many steps it takes to complete the "tea ceremony" correctly. She even needed help!

I still think a tea bag in hot water would have been easier. By the way, do you see the camera and film crew in the photo above? People were filming Kristin's group the entire time they were at the temple. Kristin and some of her friends think the crew was filming them for something for the Buddha TV Network (BTN). I had NO idea Buddha had his very own TV network, did you?

As soon as the "tea ceremony" was over, Kristin and her group went on something called a "walking meditation." I thought we were just going for a simple walk. But I quickly learned that the walk wasn't going to be all that easy. First, Kristin had to find a partner (Madhalika from National Public Radio). Then, Kristin had to help blindfold Madhalika. I thought this was very strange but Kristin said it was part of the "experience." I decided to stay warm and dry inside her coat pocket.

When the walk started, Kristin had to explain everything around us to Madhalika. Kristin later told me the walk was a lesson in trust. Madhalika had to trust that Kristin was going to keep her safe while walking on the trail. Kristin and Madhalika had to change spots on the walk back. Here is a picture Sean took of Kristin blindfolded on her walk.

As soon as we were done with the walk, Kristin and her group headed to a river bed next to the temple complex. I noticed while we were walking that people were building towers out of the rocks in the river bed. I couldn't hear why people were building the rock towers, but I thought it was cool! Here I am with Kristin building our rock tower. You can see other towers in this photo too.

It was cold and kind of wet during our temple visit, so Kristin and her group soon went inside to warm up. They warmed up doing something called a "tea meditation." The "tea meditation" is hard to explain, but basically Kristin sat on the floor, put a towel over her head and then put her head over a hot bowl of tea. Kristin said it was very relaxing. I thought it was weird. Here are Kristin and Sean getting ready for the "tea meditation."

As soon as the "tea meditation" was over, it was time to eat dinner. Dinner was called "Barugongyang" (formal Buddhist dinner). Again, Kristin and her group sat on the floor. This time several monks also sat on the floor with the group and ate with them. And yes, Kristin has another bowl of rice! I was really tired from the day, so I took a nap during dinner.

It was dark when I woke up and Kristin said we were going to a special ceremony. Another one?! Kristin must have seen the look on my face because she told me I would like this ceremony. Guess what? Kristin was right. This ceremony was cool. That's because the monks played a HUGE drum, rang a HUGE bell, and used drum sticks to play cool sounds on a giant fish hanging from the ceiling of one of the temple buildings. Kristin was taping the sounds of the ceremony so she didn't try and play the drum, bell, or fish. But some in her group did.

After the final ceremony, we spent the night at a hotel in Manhae Town near the temple. The lobby was a bit plain but there were computers and the hotel had elevators. But I was shocked when Kristin walked into our room. There wasn't a bed!

The room did have a TV (complete with remote and the Buddhist TV Network), a desk, and a small refrigerator. But there wasn't a bed! I asked Kristin why there wasn't a bed and she told me many people in Korea don't sleep on beds. Instead they sleep on quilts placed on the floor. That's when Kristin showed me the stack of quilts and pillows in one corner of the hotel room.

I like camping but I sure wasn't excited about sleeping on quilts on the floor. Kristin told me she also wasn't sure she was going to like it, but she said it was part of the "experience."

Kristin stacked 3 thick quilts on the floor and then added some pillows. Guess what? It wasn't all that bad. Who knew? I fell asleep right away!

Kristin got up REALLY early (4:30am) so she could go to a morning Buddhist chanting service. I was too tired to wake up, so I let Kristin go to the ceremony by herself.

Kristin did wake me up just after 6:00am for breakfast. Yes...another bowl of rice! Kristin said I needed to eat because we were going on a very exciting adventure and she wasn't sure when we would get to eat again. So even I ate a bowl of rice. I can't wait to find out where we are headed next!