Sunday, July 30, 2006

Summer (and by 'summer' I mean sticky rainy day) Festival and more

My school held its annual Summer Festival this past Thursday. For the last month my students have been practicing every day (ice cream is a great bribery tool) to make sure they were prepared for the event.
All of the classes participated in the festival, singing songs and reciting stories or poems.
My class (Uranus class) performed the song ‘I met a bear” and re-told the story ‘One Duck Stuck” – a cute little story about a duck who gets his foot stuck in a swampy marsh and is helped out by a variety of woodland animals i.e. “2 fish, 3 moose, 4 crickets, 5 skunks, 6 frogs, 7 snails, 8 possums, 9 snakes and 10 dragonflies”. Of course it isn’t until everyone works together that they are able to pull the duck to safety.
The performance went pretty well; and by pretty well I mean I only had to yell at one of my students to stop jumping and flailing his arms during the performance.
Let’s just say, Colleen teacher was less then impressed – maybe you can catch a glimpse of the scowl on my face from the photos below.
No seriously, they all did very well and everyone had a good time.
We were supposed to have a water day at my school on Friday, but since it has been raining for the last 500 years we cancelled the program.
Instead, we played indoor games and watched a movie (although my idea was to stick the kiddies out in the rain anyways...hey people, water is water non?)

With the week finally over it means I am officially on vacation for the next 9 days. My coworkers are all off to Thailand, China and Japan – but since I have but 3 weeks until I depart Korea, there is plenty of things to keep my here (the least of which is to begin packing up my apartment...when did I get so much crap?).
I am very excited to hear all their stories...especially those of Thailand, although there is a part of me who is sad to stay in rainy, sticky, smelly Korea for the week.
Nonetheless I will be traveling soon enough.

So the plan for the week is to finally begin sorting and packing (I always said I work best under pressure). I need to get my visa organized for India and pick up a few essential items (i.e. bug repellant, a new memory stick for my camera etc.) along with sending another box of crap (yep...right now it all feels like crap) home to Canada.
I am also cat-sitting for my coworker Whitney, so in-between packing and sorting I will run over to her apartment and play with the kitty. However, he isn’t very friendly (let’s just say he’s more of a fighter then a lover).
I also have some plans to meet up with a friend in Seoul for some beverages at some point in the week. So there will be a little bit of fun.

Will update you on the packing (and likely a few kitty photos) as the week goes on.
Miss you all and love you

Here is a photo of Uranus class performing a story "One Duck Stuck". Each of the students are holding a storyboard and that's me down in front. Posted by Picasa

Here is another photo of my class performing our story "One Duck Stuck".  Posted by Picasa

Here's Andy giving me his best 'bad kid' impression. Actually not much of an impression - perhaps the camera has captured his true nature (giggle). Posted by Picasa

I am not sure if this rain will ever stop!! The river near my house if lookimg very full (and muddy). Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

One month to go!!

It seems like it has been forever that I have been talking about 'the end of my contract'. But finally it feels within reach! One month left...horrah!!!
Thailand first...then India...then home for a much much needed visit!!
How am I feeling? all of the above I guess.
There is still plenty to do. Luckily I am on vacation as of Friday - so I will have a week to get my proverbial 'crap' together.

Mostly sorting out visa stuff with the Indian Embassy and starting to pack up my apartment. My friend Helen is driving up from Busan on the 11th to help me move my things to her place. As you know, I will be returning to Korea at the end of this year and plan to make Busan my new stompping ground.
During my vacation I also hope to do a little last minute sight seeing around this neck of the woods...but will likely spend most days sleeping in and sunning on the roof.
I have agreed to cat-sit for my coworker who will be living it up in Thailand for the week -so will likely have many cat photos in the near future....ahhh the wild life I lead.

Tonight we had another work dinner - it will likely be my last one - so here are some photos.
Will blog soon.

My coworkers. Posted by Picasa

Sue, me and Scully (and Zach in the background) enjoying our dinner.  Posted by Picasa

Just some of the spread at the Crystal Buffet..mmm (kudos to Sue and Whitney) Posted by Picasa

Always the mature foriegners. Sue is actually Vegan - but we thought it made for a good picture. I actually offered to pay her $50 if she licked the meat...but sadly this is as far as she got. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Weather update

Since I was away for the weekend, on the West coast of Korea I really had no idea how bad the weather had been until this morning.

This weekend tropical storm Bilis hit Asia and has dumped over 514 millimeters of rain in Gangwon Province (north east of Seoul) and more then 250 millimeters in Seoul which caused officials to issue and 'orange alert'. The orange alert means there is a high possibility of large-scale disasters in affected areas. It is the second-highest alert, red being the highest among four levels.
There are currently 20 people who have died as a result of flooding and landslides, and 32 missing.
A group of school children apparently were swept away while trying to cross a flooded river.
According to news reports, about 810 tourists and residents in Soraksan in Gangwon Province were also left isolated due to flooded roads, but all are safe. My coworker Amanda was on her way to Soraksan, but was left stranded outside of the park area when the roads were closed due to flooding. Luckily for her, she was able to spend the night in a hotel and return the next day back to Seoul.
The major river in Seoul (the Han River) overflowed; flooding roads and washing away the ground that held up many houses. Right now there are several hundred familys left homeless.
Tonight, the rain is still falling and is forcast to continue until Thursday.
It looks like I will be staying indoors for most of this week - trying to avoid this miserable weather.
(photos from The Seoul Times)

Monks, meditation and monsoon rain

This past weekend I traveled to Ganghwa-do which is located on the west side of Korea, about 2 hours west of Seoul. It is a beautiful rural island attached to the mainland by a land bridge. As you know, it has been a challenging time for me and I had decided to spend my long weekend at the Lotus Lantern Meditation Center learning about Buddhism and participating in an intensive meditation program.
It took me about 4 hours to reach the meditation center by bus, subway, bus (again) and then taxi, but was well worth the long journey.
The center is located down a long pathway and is surrounded by mountains and rice fields. It is the permanent home to 4 monks – The head monk is Korean, there is another monk from Bangladesh, one from Vietnam and a new ‘monk-in-training’ who is from America. Each of them is very kind and open.
The monk from Vietnam, Thich Van Phong, was my favorite. He spoke two words of English: ‘Go’ and “ok” but managed to communicate very effectively (his Korean is much better then his English). He was very funny and warmed up immediately to each of us. He was very eager to spend time with the foreigners and always was ready to show us new things around the center.
I knew the schedule would be challenging, but I had no idea how much work would be involved.
On my first day, I arrived around noon and spent the afternoon relaxing, reading and drinking tea with others while we waited for others to arrive. We were given a brief orientation and then after dinner began our first chanting and meditation session.
Everyday Monks follow a strict routine: wake up 3:30am, chanting and completing 108 prostrations (each one is a bow that starts standing, then you kneel down, place your head on the ground and lift your hands -palm up- towards your ears, then stand up again...very hard especially when you have to do 108 of them – after doing this for 2 mornings in a row, my legs are very sore).
Once this is finished around 5:00am there is meditation for half an hour. Breakfast is at 6:00am. Then the rest of the morning is spent doing meditating and study. At 11:00am more chanting and prostrations (this time only about 15 or 20). After lunch there is time for rest and tea. Then continued meditation practice. Dinner is eaten around 6:00pm and then at 7:00pm there is the last chanting and prostration session followed by 2 more hours of meditation. Everyone is expected to be in bed by 9:30pm.
As visitors to the temple, we were expected to follow this schedule.
It was difficult and very tiring – but well worth it.
The entire weekend the monsoon rain poured down. It stopped for less then a few hours during the whole three days. It was almost magical sitting in the main temple as the monsoon rain beats down and the monks chant in the darkness of the pre-dawn light.
Words can not describe how incredible it felt.
I had a chance to learn many things. Not only did we participate in the daily routine’s of Monks, we were able to practice a traditional meal offering, try calligraphy, take a field trip to a near by temple and we were even invited to be in a commercial that is being filmed to promote the center (yep I will be on a Korean television commercial!! ). The commercial will feature several foreigners and the Abbot Monk meditating.
My favorite experience during my stay was on my last day. The Abbot Monk (head monk for the center) invited 6 of us to his private office for tea with him.
The room is a small, warm room with lovely floor cushions and a very large, floor-to-ceiling window that looks out over the center grounds. We sat for almost an hour drinking tea with him and the other 3 monks. He showed us photos of a recent trip he took to India, along with some of his favorite items that people have given to him (among them was a beautiful vase made by a local artisan and a leaf that he had picked from the Bodhi Tree where Buddha sat near Bodhgaya, India.)
It was all very surreal to be sitting, laughing and drinking tea with the monks. We discussed literature, travel, their lives and he asked us many questions about our lives in Korea. The monks took a genuine interest in each of us and it was an unforgettable experience to be able to share in some intimate conversation with them.
I feel honored to have shared this weekend with them.
I have left feeling much more at peace with myself and the world around me.
Zen Buddhism teaches that the answers are within us – we all have Buddha nature. Through meditation and practice we can discover that nature. I think that after this weekend I have seen a glimpse of my own Buddha nature. As I return to back to home I am tired and sore, yet I am feeling hopeful about the future and my purpose in it. There will always be pain and times of suffering in this life – but through training and practice I hope to learn how to let go of my attachments and strive for happiness.

The main temple , Lotus Lantern Meditation Center Posted by Picasa

This was the group at our temple stay at Lotus Lantern Meditation Center Posted by Picasa

View of the Grand Meditation Hall and flooding along the pathway Posted by Picasa

Just some of the flooding from the monsoon rain. This was taken outside the door of our room Posted by Picasa

Preparing to try some calligraphy in the Great Hall Posted by Picasa

The camera crew getting ready to film the commercial. Apparently it will be on TV in a month or two. So stay tuned!!! Posted by Picasa

The setting for our commercial (it is a new meditation hall) Posted by Picasa

Mid-morning chanting - this was at 11am....our second of the day.  Posted by Picasa

Thich Van Phong and me inside the Main temple at Lotus Lantern Posted by Picasa

Field Trip!!! Emily and me in the monk-mobile on our way to Jeondeungsa temple Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 17, 2006

Look at the flooding!!! Yes - these were the stairs leading up to Jeondeungsa. I actually thought it was a waterfall when I first saw it. So we took our socks and shoes off and walked up. Posted by Picasa

Aimee, Courtney, Melanie, me, Emily and Henri (we had insence in our hands which is an offering we made for those who have past away) Posted by Picasa

Aimee, me, Thich Van Phong and Henry at Jeondeungsa (a litle wet from all the rain) Posted by Picasa

View of temple roofs at Jeondeungsa Posted by Picasa

Thich Van Phong 'ahhh-ing' after drinking some delicous spring water at Jeondeungsa Posted by Picasa

This is the view from our room. Goergeous rice fields and mountians on Ganghwa-do. Posted by Picasa