Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cheongju: Hello Cat

The next morning we woke up with an unfamiliar feeling for this trip - hungover.
Luckily we were in the most luxurious of all love motels we had stayed at. The country cottage themed, aptly named Toronto. We slept in, packed our bags wearily and then decided to get some lunch before we left for a yet undecided destination.

But then this happened. Tea? With cats? Lounging around fake fire places? YES PLEASE.

Bear with me here....

Here is the mother of all cat ladies. She does not speak human.

The cafe was extremely clean and the cats had a little private area to do their business, sleep and chill out.

And then, there is Ming.

And after...

Don't get me wrong, you won't see any of my kittens looking like this. But I'm sure this is one of the most loved cats in Korea. Everyday animal rights do not feature high on the list of priorities in Asia (war anyone?) and eating meat is considered a privilege to many people. Most people live in apartments so if you do have a pet it's probably a cat or a small dog and it's going to be cuted up to the max.

You are even provided the tools de-fur yourself on leaving.

We emerged, ahhhhhh, about FOUR HOURS later. To late to travel anywhere, we checked back into Motel Toronto. It was just fine with me!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cheongju: Meeseok's Studio

Kerri has an old ceramicist friend in Cheongju, whom she has wanted me to meet for years, so we thought we'd make it happen. So we headed to the capital (Where Jikji, the world's oldest book was printed in 1377.) of the Chungcheongbuk-do Provence, centre left of South Korea.

This is Meeseok's studio. Yes, that is a tree in the middle and he gave us many, many, many cups of tea.

Meeseok is not your typical Korean. He always wears a casual hanbok, he has long hair and John Lennon glasses, he's a legend. His work is stunning and if I was very rich - I would definitely be investing. Huge pots with carved images and white slip - so simple, yet bold.

One of Meeseok's other loves is homemade Makgeoli. Potent and delicious rice and wheat wine, loved by all adjosshi's and adjumma's in Korea (especially while hiking I've noticed.) In the picture below, the bag to my left is full of empty makgeoli bottles.

We were joined by Meeseok's friend Mr. Jong for a dinner of stir fried kimchi, tofu and beef and boiled pork.

And then, it was norebang time! What an excellent night indeed!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Golgulsa Temple

After visiting all of these beautiful temples on our trip so far. I thought I'd better make the most of my time here and stay at one.
I felt a bit lonely getting on the bus in Gyeongju after being surrounded by people for the past week but I trucked on anyway!
Jinju -> Gyeongju: 2.20
Gyeongju -> Golgulsa Turn off: 40 min
Walk to Golgulsa: 20 min

After I arrived I was taken to my room (a step down from my bed the night before):

I met my gorgeous Korean roommate Yanghae. She didn't speak English well, but we got by on what we knew of each others languages. Also, silence is encouraged at the temple so it was nice to be with someone but not have too much expected of me in conversation.
I was then taken to dinner. The food was all vegan and completely fresh and delicious. The rule here is that you can not leave even a grain of rice on your plate - which I think is a good philosophy to live by (and something I do not do very often!)
We had an evening chanting service, followed by Sunmudo training. Sunmudo is a South Korean practice consisting of martial arts, yoga and meditation. Different instructors took us for different classes and one of them was a Norwegian guy who had come here 8 years ago and never left. It seems to me that to train and live here as a Buddhist, completely dissolves any other life happenings.

So this is what a day at Golgulsa is like, plus or minus a few activities:
4.00am Wake up call from the young chanting monks. Not too much of a problem because it was so beyond early.
4.30am Chanting service, meditation and walking meditation. So beautiful in this temple, settled a top a hill.

6.00am Snooze
6.30am Breakfast
7.00am Snooze
8.30am Sunmudo Training (Yoga based)
10.10am 108 bows
11.00am Meditation (we walked up a mountain)
11.50am Lunch
12.15pm Snooze
2.00pm Archery (I snoozed through this...whoops!)
3.00pm Community service (weeding and the like)
4.00pm Snoozing, reading, walking around
5.30pm Dinner
6.00pm Snooze
7.00pm Chanting

7.30pm Sunmudo (more action than the morning - ouch!)
9.00pm Go to room
10.00pm Lights out

Golgusa has been around since the 6th century. It's extremely beautiful and very famous for having the only cave temple in Korea.

Look at that view!

The gorgeous temple dog that came up to chanting in the morning and is the calmest dog in the world.

On the first morning, during the early morning meditation, I was finding it extremely hard to stay awake - seriously, 5am, close your eyes and clear your mind? Out of the corner of my squinted eye, I saw two of the young boys that lived there sprawled on the carpet asleep. This made my sleep urges worse and I thought, Why can they do that when I can't? I brought my knees out of lotus position and rested my face in them. After the lights came on, one of the monks went up to the two boys and hit them 3 times each across the shoulder with a stick. For a moment I really thought I was next! I felt that awful school shiver as he walked past me. Okay, rule learned. Always keep meditating.
I learned a little later that kids (like the sleepy meditationers) are sent here when they are kicked out of school. For example, the cutest, youngest boy had thrown a hot drink in his teachers face. I could tell that these kids did not want to be here, but I also recognised that ratbag look in their eyes - so being led by extremely strict and disciplined monks is probably the best for them! Despite this, many foreigners and Koreans visit here for some time out (no discipline for us!)

There was only one weird thing that happened while I was there. During community service, this guy started slying around me. I could tell by his below the knee shorts and pulled up white tube socks he was Korean American. He spoke exactly like Napoleon Dynamite.
"Do you actually wanna be here? God I hate it here. I just want to leave. Do you have 1000 won? I need to escape...blah blah"
He told me that he was sent from California to Golgulsa by his parents.
"You're telling me you're 31 years old and your parents sent you here because you smoke too much weed?" Hah!
Anyway, whenever I was walking on my own, Napoleon would come up behind me, "Hey, do you have that 1000 won?" I eventually told him that I didn't and I only had enough to bus home.
"Congratulations on leaving this place."
Don't ruin my buzz dude!

On my last morning, I watched a sunmudo demonstration up at the temple, in the blazing sun. It was amazing- these guys have INCREDIBLE strength.

Three days and two nights later, I arrived back in Jinju - nil of any 'Eat, Pray, Love' moments. But apart from Napoleon Dynamite, it was a fantastic experience. I really enjoyed the 108 bows, as physically tiring as they were. I couldn't imagine living here for a long time, but many people do and foreigners often volunteer as English teachers. I definitely felt well fed, rested and very calm.