Saturday, August 25, 2007

Meanwhile, Back in Korea

Well, I’ve finally gotten out from under the pile of new yarn and have time for another Korea post.
I took two days to explore Seoul after I’d sat at HGS for about a week. I was going to take three but I was so exhausted after two that I decided to just hang around HGS for my last day. That’s actually when I took most of the pictures there.
Seoul is a really interesting city. It is really vibrant and full of life. The subway and bus system is so easy I really felt like I could get anywhere I wanted to.
My first day in Seoul didn’t start out that well, though. It was pouring rain and the umbrella I’d brought with me was about the size of a postage stamp and just not up to the challenge. I tried to look around the Anguk section of Seoul, which is right next to Chogye-sa, the head temple for all of Korea. There are lots of shops that cater to the monks and nuns. I had an idea of getting myself some fabric to make another set of practice clothes. Unfortunately, I wandered into the wrong store. It was a fairly high-end shop from the looks of it and the woman in there was already waiting on a nun. I saw bolts of fabric and stepped up into a raised area of the shop to get a better look. Suddenly, the woman in the shop starts yelling ‘Noshoesnoshoesnoshoesnoshoes!’ Apparently, I was supposed to take my shoes off before stepping up into that section! Who knew!?? I beat it out of there and back into the rain.
By that time I was pretty soaked. Fortunately, Kim had asked me to buy him an umbrella while I was out. I finally remembered this and bought a great big umbrella that improved my outlook enormously. I was too wet to keep walking around outside so I decided to find this great big indoor market in the Dongdaemun shopping district. I’d heard a rumor that there was yarn there!

Yarn there was and even a knitting/crochet group!

My friend Kathy, who is Korean, thought this was really funny since she’s never once seen a knitting group in Korea and I found one my first day in the city. I was so happy to see them. I showed them my socks and suddenly I got offered coffee and was invited to sit down.

I had found my people! None of them spoke any English and we all know how much Korean I speak but we all seemed to understand each other anyway. I sat with them for about an hour slowing drying out and recovering from my encounter with the shop lady. I got some yarn there too (of course!). It is very fine gauge wool. The things people seemed to be making where knitted or crocheted lacy tops to wear over a camisole (you can see all the shop samples hanging up) and novelty yarn purses that you make the body of and then take to a different part of the building to be professionally finished. Sock knitting has definitely not taken hold there which seems funny to me since you spend so much time in your stocking feet in Korea. It is actually considered bad manners to walk around inside in bare feet. Since people eat, sleep and essentially do all their living on the floor, you need to keep your feet covered. Maybe if I knit enough socks for friends over there, maybe they’ll catch on!
My second day in the city, I went to this amazing palace right in the middle of Seoul. I wasn’t too excited about the big barren areas surrounded by buildings but when I started following the road around the palace grounds, I was charmed.

Doesn't this wall want to be a Fair Isle pattern?

There are all these lovely natural areas with small buildings peeking out of the trees.

There were any number of these areas that the royal family and the court used for different purposes. One area, the Kings Well, was used for poetry writing parties. It was just beautiful!

Another thing that struck me about Seoul was how modern Seoul and traditional Seoul are right beside each other. Any number of times in the city, I’d look around and there’d be a small temple or other ancient building in amongst the high rises.

I really enjoyed my visits into Seoul but I have to say that I'm not really built for too much touring. I was so tired when I got back that second day that when I lay down for a nap at 5pm, I slept right through evening practice!

In my next post, we say goodbye to Hwa Gye Sa and head off to Mu Sang Sa!

Friday, August 17, 2007

New Yarn Everywhere!

All the new fall yarn is arriving and it is getting to be quite a challenge finding places for all of it. Mind you, I'm not complaining. This is may favorite time of year! Almost everyday, the UPS guy brings me huge boxes stuffed with beeeauuutiful yarn! It's the best!
So far I've gotten tons of Cascade including a new yarn called Cash Vero and new colors in just about everything else. I'm also making good on my threat to get rid of all old novelty yarn and replace it with sock yarn. So far, I've gotten Clown, Raggi and Mini Raggi. I also got all the roving (from the NH Sheep and Wool Fest fleeces) back from Zeilinger. Mmmmm, roving.
I love my job!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Cool People at HGS (finally!)

The people you meet on retreat are so interesting. A friend told me that the people you meet on retreat are some of your truest friends and I certainly found that to be the case while I was in Korea. The retreat at Hwa Gye Sa was different than other retreats I’ve done in that we were not keeping silence and that there were no interviews with a teacher. The thing I found is that being able to talk to each other took the place, in a different way, of talking to a teacher. In essence, we were each other’s teachers. This was particularly helpful on the day that I always have at the beginning of a retreat. It is the day I refer to as the “screw this, I’m going home” day. One of the people who got to deal with me that day were the kind and ever-cheerful Hwa Kwang Soo who is the Seoul International Zen Center’s office manager. She’s not actually on retreat but she was around a lot and was very kind and patient with me when I was incredibly grouchy.

The other was Chee Seng who is a man full of the Dharma (really zonked him with the flash when taking this picture but he was an awful good sport about it) and gave very helpful advice on my grouchy day. After I get the grouchy day out of the way, I’m fine and actually can’t figure out why I was so upset. It’s weird but I’m getting better at seeing it coming. It’s like being able to tell when I’m getting dehydrated when a string of profanity starts running through my mind. I hear **&%$##@$% in my head and go “Oops! Time to drink some water!”

This is Jamie. She’s a little camera-shy, which is amazing to me. If I were as cute as she is, I’d pay people to take my picture. Jamie is Korean but is actually a resident of the Cambridge Zen Center. It was so wonderful to come all that way and see a familiar face! She was such a help to me in so many ways. She translated for me. She taught me to say “hello” and “thank you” in Korean then flagged over another Korean lady and made me practice on her until I got it. She got me the Seoul Metro equivalent of a Charlie Card. And she was just there being her sweet self. What a doll!
This is Lee Joo Ok. She speaks no English and I speak almost no Korean and yet we seemed to bond. We talked a bit through Jamie but mostly just were present together. I was surprised and flattered when she gave me a book. It is the dharma talks of a Hungarian teacher. The first half of the book is in Korean and the second half is the English translation. I’d actually like to use it to start learning Korean!
Here we have Kim. He’s from Israel via Greece where he lives at a residential Zen center led by another student of Zen Master Seung Sahn. One thing I noticed is that Hwa Gye Sa brought up a lot of karma for a lot of people when they arrived. This poor guy started out with the worst case of jet lag I’ve ever seen which then morphed into a cold that then turned into bronchitis. He stuck it out, though, and was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed by the time I left.
Being a monastery, there were a lot of monks and nuns around.

Here I am with the Head Monk, O Kwang Sunim (on the left) and another monk whose name I forgot to write down. The other monk we sat with was Jo Bul Sunim, the Assistant Head Monk, whom I never got a picture of. He was a great big Polish guy with whom I shared a lot of good-natured ribbing. You may be saying, “So, these guys aren’t Korean. What’s up with that?” Well, actually, the Seoul International Zen Center is sort of separate from Hwa Gye Sa proper. Hwa Gye Sa is still Korean but SIZC is run along side it by people who came to the center through the Kwan Um School. It’s complicated but what it essentially means is that the Western Sunims and the Korean Sunims do some stuff together and some stuff separately and there are separate hierarchies in both groups. The group of us sitting Kyol Che there was a separate small group inside of the greater Hwa Gye Sa scene, and some scene it is! There are hundreds of people in the Sangha and most of them show up on Sunday. I remember the first Sunday I was there. I came downstairs from morning practice and the Buddha Hall was jammed with people. There were people cooking stuff in the parking lot and kids running around everywhere. Hwa Gye Sa is a tremendously active temple that has lay people in and out of it all day, every day. It was really something to see.
In my next post (I won't say tomorrow because you know I lie), I will tell you all about my trips into Seoul where I got chased out of a shop, saw a palace and found knitters!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Korea Trip Part 2-Hwa Gye Sa

Welcome to Hwa Gye Sa! This is the first temple I stayed at. It is actually a whole complex but I spent almost all of my time in the main building.

The ground floor is offices and a huge cafeteria as well as the toilet and the shower facilities. The second floor is classrooms, monks rooms and guest rooms. The third floor is the Buddha Hall and the top floor had the meditation hall where I spent most of my time.

Other buildings in the complex are offices, formal dining halls, and various buildings dedicated to different sutras or bodhisattvas.

One of my favorites was this building housing the big bell and drum as well as a smaller bell (by smaller, I mean less than 5 feet high) and various other noise makers. These got played at different times during the day especially before chanting and were extremely cool!

Here's a close up of the big bell. It is about 7 feet high and is played by swinging the log suspended to the right of it. You might be able to see it through the fence.

Here's the drum on the upper level. It too is really huge, like as tall as me. It was great fun to hear them every morning and night!

One of the other cool things about the temple was the details everywhere. Here's a little lion statue who guarded the stairs on the way from one level to the next.

I also loved these fish bells. They hung from every corner of every level of the temple and made a wonderful sound when the wind blew.
I didn't get to take too many pictures in the Buddha Hall and the Meditation Hall because they were in almost constant use. Here is a very bad picture of the altar in the Buddha Hall. If you look in between the big Buddhas, you can see a bunch of dots. Each of those is a small Buddha statue about 5" high. There were a gazillion of them!

Here is an equally bad picture of the Meditation Hall. It is practically austere compared to the Buddha Hall. My seat was at the far end and I got to look out the window that you can see at the end there. This was actually a very breezy nice room being up as high as it was and full of windows. I really enjoyed sitting here.

I was always amazed by the art everywhere. It felt like almost every surface was covered with paintings. Here are a couple of painting from hallways. The second one is in the hallway on the way to the store room!

This is my bedroom for my stay. Wonder of wonders, I got a single for the entire time I was there. That almost never happens on a long retreat. You always have to share.

There was only one minor disadvantage. It was on the top floor next to the Meditation Hall. Where was the bathroom? Ground floor. So imagine me facing this trip at least once a night. I made sure to hold the railing all the way down!

Here we go:

Made it to the Buddha Hall! (Notice the shoe rack).

Okay, made it to the second floor.

And we're here!And once I'd taken care of business, of course, there was the climb back up.

Lucy say, "Enh..." (Well, Lucy say a couple other things but this is a family show.)

Tomorrow, the seriously cool people I met at Hwa Gye Sa!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Korea Trip Part 1-I arrive in Korea!

After all the trauma of Tuesday, July 3, I actually got on a plane on Wednesday, July 4. I was pretty happy and a little bit in a daze.

The trip to Korea was fairly uneventful. I made all my connections and didn’t have any bad layovers (wish I could say the same for the trip back!)
I got into Incheon at about 9pm and the first thing I noticed was the humidity. Very humid in Korea! I caught an airport bus, which took me to within two blocks of my hostel. On the bus I ran into another American who was staying at my same hostel! Small world.
I got to the hostel at about 11pm. I’ve never stayed at a hostel before but I have to say, this place was a dump! I mean they were nice and everything and the bathroom was reasonably close to my room but it wasn’t that clean and was kind of falling apart. That was all fairly okay excepting that they didn’t open the office in the morning until 9:30am. That was about two hours after I needed to get some drinkable water and check out. Oh, well.

I sat in the courtyard and knitted until they (finally) opened up. That's the front gate. The hostel is behind me. I didn't take anymore pictures because I thought I'd be back. Turns out, I wasn't. I'll get to that part later.

BTW, Seoul has an odor. It is fairly distinctive. It is a combination of cooking seaweed, which is kind of nice (I love me some seaweed!) and sewer gas. Sometimes more seaweed, sometimes more sewer gas. I didn’t notice it after a few days but I found it really interesting. I guess it is better than around here, which tends to smell like car exhaust.
Anyway, I managed to check out and headed to the subway station that would take me to Hwa Gye Sa. Here are a few pictures from my walk.
I like Seoul a lot. It is very full and busy and neighborhood-y. Lots of people, lots going on and the public transportation system is a dream.

Everything is written in English as well as Korean! I had no trouble getting around!
I found the right stop, got off the subway and found a taxi. This fella is the first person I successfully spoke Korean to.

I said, “Hwa Gye Sa kajuseyo.” and he took me to Hwa Gye Sa! It was like magic!

Tomorrow, I will introduce you to Hwa Gye Sa. It was a really cool place to practice and I even found a friend from the Cambridge Zen Center sitting retreat there!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I'm back!

Hello All! I'm back. I've actually been back for a week but came down with a rotten cold almost immediately after getting off the plane. Today is the first day I'm feeling like I can do any more than the bare minimum.
What a great trip I had! The flight, once I actually got on one, was very smooth. I met all kinds of amazing people and had a really nice visit. I was amazed how comfortable I felt in Korea. I felt stranger coming back than I did while I was there. I'll be doing a bunch of posts about the trip but just wanted to let everyone know that I was back and fine. Thanks again for all your support. I'll post tomorrow with pictures, I promise!