Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Time in Korea

Despite having to spend the Christmas season away from loved ones at home, we ended up having a wonderful time celebrating in Korea. We filled December with Christmas pastimes and managed to squeeze in our Christmas movie watching, music listening, tree decorating, snowflake cutting, and cookie baking. It was definitely a different sort of Christmas, but it was great nevertheless.

Before Christmas, we went with friends to see the Christmas light display in Nampo-dong (a popular shopping district here in Busan).

On Christmas Eve, friends came over to our apartment for a White Elephant Gift Exchange. We loaded our hot cocoa with irish cream and marshmallows and sat down to enjoy the interesting array of presents people brought. We also engaged in a game of "Would You Rather?" and furiously debated questions such as: Would you rather have tinsel for hair or Christmas lights for fingernails?

We also played an experimental game with a double-wrapped present, oven mitts, and dice. The game involved frantic passing and unwrapping, and as you can see, the results didn't turn out very well.

On Christmas Day, we slept in and enjoyed breakfast and presents. Tyler got me a guitar! I helped Tyler purchase his top of the line ping pong paddle that he's been dreaming about. We also unwrapped gifts sent from home. Thank you, parents! Everything was lovely and we have candy to last us months.

In the afternoon, we went to enjoy a Christmas supper with our friends Bobby and Jestine. After that, we met up with Josh, Kalie, Zach, and Sam to see the Nutcracker at the Busan Cinema Center. The high points of the ballet were the pelvic thrusting rats, the break dancing, and the disco ball. We all agreed that the performance was interesting to say the least.

Our Christmas was filled with fun experiences and we're glad that we got to celebrate with such great friends. Tyler and I will never forget our Christmas in Korea.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas at the Women's Shelter

For a couple of months, Tyler and I have been volunteering at a women's shelter for women and children who have been victims of domestic violence. Today, we attended a Christmas event for the children that included lunch, Christmas cookie decorating, and Secret Santa gift giving. Going to the shelter and seeing the women and children's smiling faces brings us so much joy each time we go. Christmas isn't celebrated here to the extent it's celebrated in America, but we definitely got our dose of the Christmas spirit this afternoon. 

First, everyone ate a delicious lunch of pizza and spaghetti. As you can see, the children thoroughly enjoyed the spaghetti. 

Next, we helped the children decorate Christmas cookies shaped like Christmas trees. With frosting, red and green sprinkles, M&Ms, chocolate cheerios, straw candy, and a gummy star for the top, the children created culinary masterpieces. I think it was many of the children's first experience decorating Christmas cookies, so the process was really fun to watch. 

Last, all of the children excitedly received and opened their Secret Santa gifts. Each volunteer was assigned to a child at the shelter and was asked to purchase gloves, a scarf, or a hat. 

Tyler and I bought a present for Kang Kyung-In, an adorable 5-year-old girl in our preschool class. Watching her open her gift was so heartwarming! 

Needless to say, we had an awesome afternoon and we are so fortunate to have shared a bit of Christmas with these amazing children. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hanukkah in Korea

Last weekend, we had the opportunity to celebrate our very first Hanukkah... in Korea. In my opinion, this is equally as weird as celebrating Ramadan in Switzerland or the Fourth of July in Egypt. Nevertheless, it was a great experience. As always, spending time with the wonderful friends we've made here in Busan was a time well spent.

Below is a short video of the Hanukkah explanations and readings spoken by Josh and Kalie, our fantastic hosts.

We all feasted on a traditional Hanukkah meal that included brisket, veggies, homemade applesauce, Challah (braided bread), and Latkes (potato pancakes). To Tyler's delight, we also got Krispy Kreme donuts as our Hanukkah dessert. To wash it down, we had a kosher wine called Manischewitz which I thoroughly butchered by saying Man-ih-shoo-wits. Actually, it's pronounced more like Man-ih-sheh-vitz. The Man-ih-sheh-vitz was really sweet and delicious.

Good people and good conversation once again made for a good time. We were happy to get some schooling on the history and the meaning of Hanukkah. I now know the significance of the highest candle on the menorah and the difference between Yiddish and Hebrew. Shalom to all of our loved ones.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Beomeosa Temple

In the mid 7th century Buddhist monks built what what today is perhaps the most famous temple in Korea: Beomeosa Temple. The temple itself is actually a set of several large compounds of small temples built far into the wilderness against a wall a mountains. The buildings have been burned and reconstructed several times in their 1300 years lives, the most recent reconstruction dating back to the early 17th century. 

The general disposition of the temple buildings: a set of buildings surrounding an open pavilion with stone statues.

A view of the roofs from one compound. 

When we first arrived at the temple site, it took us about an hour before we actually made our way inside the walls of the compounds. Surrounding the walls are numerous trails lined with bamboo shoots. To say the least, it is stunning. The trees have wept most of their yellow and brown leaves to the forest floor. Their branches are naked and stark against the grey sky. The brown and yellow brown lays undisturbed, solitary, and somehow rich. It was a strange contrast, beneath our feet, above our eyes.

So we spent our first hour wandering among the scenery, as one might become reacquainted with an old friend.

The trees adorned themselves with many vines.

A 200-year-old bridge over the memory of a river.

As Natalie said when she saw it, "My tree throne!"

The above picture seems to be the remains of what was probably a very large river. Judging by the size of the trees, it hasn't flowed in some time. The rock bed itself is probably 100 meters wide, moves up into the mountains towards their peeks, and flows down hill beyond site. Their was a sign at the edge of the rock bed, but it was written in Korean. Which naturally was an insurmountable hurdle to our greater understanding of the river. 

This tree was enclosed in a small rock wall, and was very large, very beautiful. The 4 nests in upper reaches of its branches suggest that the birds agreed. In the background is a nice representation of the kinds of mountains surrounding the temple. 

After exploring Beomeosa's surroundings we wandered inside the expanse of the Temple compounds. The architecture was rich, colorful, serene. There were many buildings, each with their own purpose and unique design. The grounds were quiet, with a few other spectators meandering from room to room. What is perhaps the single coolest thing about the temple is that most people visiting the temple were Buddhists who were coming to pay homage and pray. Secondly, the temple grounds are kept by Buddhist monks who live at the Temple permanently. Thus, it felt unlike an historical tourist attraction (i.e. Notredame), and rather was a place whose 1300 year history has gone relatively unchanged in time - that is, barring the modern "improvements" of microphones, electric generators, and various cords, all upon which obvious efforts had gone to conceal their conspicuousness.  

The above picture to the right is one example of what most of the rooms looked like. Centered was usually a gold colored statue, varying from large to small. Along ever wall, and surrounding the room, you can just barely see, are small square tablets with prayers on them. This particular room harbored 2,500 of the little prayers. Most rooms had the small prayers, and contained about the same number. One large room (below), contained over 12,000, and each tablet with its own personal electric candle. Unfotunately, cameras were not allowed inside the rooms. Plus, it somehow would seem wrong to take one in anyway. 

It was probably one of the most fun trips we have been on since coming to Korea. Next week we will visit again and finish exploring the grounds, and afterward will hike some of the surrounding mountains.

Hiking Baegyang Mountain

Several weekends ago, we went on a hike for the first time. The location for the hike couldn't be better: the trailhead is about 300 meters from out front door, and right on the side of the road. It was 72 degrees and the sky was clear and blue.

Hiking in Korea is not like hiking in the states. Back home, one can choose any mountain, follow the trail, and expect to see very few people - especially as the trail gains elevation; anyone you do see is relatively young. Korean hikes, for one, have countless trails going in every direction. On a trail map it probably looks like a 3 year old acquired a pen and spent a great deal of constructive time defacing the neat the gridlines.

Secondly, there are, in comparison to the states, a tremendous number of people who hike here - it is the Korean past time. Secondly, the hiking demographic in Korea is almost exclusively 40-80. Natalie and I were the youngest people by far that we saw hiking. I inquired from my fellow teachers into why the younger generation is absent from hiking. The unanymous answer was that they are busy with their electronics, but that when the younger generation gets older they will probably take up hiking too. What is espeically odd is that, even when you get to the top of the mountain, the demographic remains essentially unchanged - sure you lose a few people near the upper end. And boy was it strange to see men and women well into their seventies keeping pace with us!

Below are several more pictures and one video of our hike:

Lastly (below) only in Korea:
Full amenities 5 kilometers in. One of 3 workout stations. This one is at about 1500 feet elevation, near the top of the mountain.