Friday, June 30, 2006

Wandering on soon

Only 8 more weeks of teaching (plus one week of vacation) left before I'm on the road again. It's amazing how fast a year can pass by without even realizing it. It has been fun (and continues to be fun) but my feet are itching to start moving again. I don't have much longer to wait. Four days after my contract is over I'm on a plane bound for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A friend from Malaysia whom I met at university in Australia (has it really been three years?) lives in KL and has invited me to come visit. The planning for this trip is still in it's infancy, but I thought I would make KL my home base and then travel around Malaysia and Thailand for September, October and November. (If anyone out there has any beautiful, mysterious, or exciting hidden destinations in either of these countries, please send me an email about it!) I now need to pay for my plane tickets, get insurance (World Nomads) and do all those other necessary but boring tasks. The fun part for me is packing my bag, but I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. I just sent most of my belongings back to Kansas with Barbara so everything I own here in Korea can now fit into my large backpack and a small carry-on suitcase (which I'll probably mail home soon).

In the meantime, I still have a lot to look forward to in my last couple months here. I have a friend from Australia coming to visit next week for a month. We always have exciting adventures together so I'm expecting nothing less on this visit. (Be afraid Hilly, be very afraid!)In July, I have a three day weekend and a week-long paid vacation starts the last week.

So, when am I going home? Hmm... Good question, although I don't consider it a pressing one. I honestly don't know. I do know that it most likely won't be for at least another year though. But I do have an old lady (aka "Granny") in the mountains of Colorado whom I promised an extended visit to and also a mountain there that I promised myself I would climb. Wandering around the world internationally has sparked my interest in exploring the U.S. so at some point I would also like to Kerouac around the States to the many places I haven't yet seen.

Speaking of all this travel, a phone conversation yesterday with an operator made me realize what a global world we're living in. Yesterday at 7:00 in the morning I called the U.S. 1-800 number for Expedia and spoke with a man located in the Philippines (time zone one hour ahead of Korea). I was buying a ticket from Korea and he asked where I was calling from. When we were finished he told me to, "have a nice night!".

Thursday, June 29, 2006

"The world only exists in your eyes. You can

make it as big or as small as you want."

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Muuido and Silmido islands

Hanagae beach on Muuido

After the World Cup game ended (around 7:30 am) I had some dukboki for breakfast and then caught the subway to Incheon and then a bus, a taxi and then a ferry to Muuido island. Then I crashed on the beach. On an island with no plans--that's the life. Saturday I laid out on the beach with my book until the sun started to hide behind clouds in the late afternoon. I found a minbak back in the woods that was 20,000 won with a friendly group of guys from Incheon sitting out front drinking soju and cooking samgapsal. I sat with them for awhile and chatted and played sam-youk-gu (3-6-9) in Korean and then gong gong chil bang (007 bang). I went to bed early to recover from the World Cup madness. They stayed up until 4 am.

Guys from Incheon staying at the same minbak

View of Muuido from Silmido

Sunday morning when the tide was low I walked over to Silmido island. Silmido was a training location for a group of soldiers trained to assassinate Kim Il-Sung in the 1960's and also the location of the movie, Silmido, based on those events. I walked along the rocky beach, sat on a large rock and watched two fishermen for awhile. They caught a couple fish and then I watched one of them skin them and cut them into bite-sized pieces of fresh sushi, which they then sat down to eat with soju. They called me down from my rock and tried to get me to eat a bite of raw fish. I declined, but at their insistence I took a shot of soju with them instead.

I walked back over to Muuido before the tide covered up the passway between the islands and slept, read and relaxed on the beach until around 3 pm when I started to make my way back to Seoul. Barbara and I had dinner at Everest and then we went to two plays at a small theatre in Hyewha, 'This is a Play' and 'Never Swim Alone'. After the plays were over, Barbara and I ran through the rain to the subway. She's catching a flight tonight back to Kansas...I can't believe how fast that month went! It's been fun...

Monday, June 26, 2006

Korea vs. Switzerland- 4 am Saturday

Nori Bar pre-game party

City Hall

Korea played Switzerland at 4:00 am on Saturday morning and I went to City Hall with Barbara and Heather (for a second sleepless night in a row after watching Australia play Friday at 4 am). To kill some time before the game we went to Nori Bar in Shinchon, which I haven't been to in ages! It was still the same good time as always only with new faces due to the ever-changing cycle of teachers.

We cabbed it to City Hall from Nori and got there a bit after 3 am. The crowds were unbelievable! Swarms of people were seriously never-ending, all wearing red and most with glowing devil horns on their heads. We started several chants of, "Tae-han-min-guk!", with our noise-makers to the delight of the crowds and, "Oh, Pilsung Korea...". The last time I had slept was Wednesday night so I was only running on adrenaline once the game started. We found a spot and shortly after the game started my adrenaline rush ended and I intermittently fell asleep while I was sitting up with a guy banging a drum next to me. I can seriously sleep anywhere. I saw some of the game though... Korea lost 2-0 so everyone was looking down once the sun was up. Good times though anyways.

Red Devil

City Hall

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Sun through the trees

"The present gives us simultaneously the illusion that is exceptional and the illusion that it is eternal. Of course it is neither of these, but rather a recurrent and usually minor ambush of space and time where, like it or not, we must close ranks and fight. It teaches us nothing of importance, except that its grime and confusion are the fabric of living time; that no analysis of past time or projection of future time should ignore its prying demands and grudging allowances."

-Robert Grudin, from Time and the Art of Living

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

More pictures of Songnisan National Park

At Boepjusa temple

Giant bronze Buddha at Boepjusa temple

Biro sanjang, where I stayed the night (in the small cabin on the left).

My hiking buddy, Mr. Kim

Sanchae bibimbap

Am I a kid?

I like Abby's Book Nook in Itaewon not only because of all the used English books there but also because Abby, the self-assertive and adorable Korean-American daughter of the owner, never fails to give me a laugh. The first time she was there, I walked in and began browsing at a shelf near the front counter where her and her mother were sitting. I waved at her and she gave me a perplexed look and asked, "Are you a kid?"

I answered, "No...I'm not a kid. Are you a kid?"

To which she replied, with a serious look on her face, "I am a kid, but if you're not one, then why are you so short?"

On another occasion, I overheard her approach a 50-something man who was reading with a cup of coffee and ask if he wanted to play chess. He seemed somewhat uncomfortable with children and told her he didn't know how. "That's okay, it's easy!", she said as she set up the board, "What color do you want?" As I continued to search for the perfect book, I would hear overhear comments from Abby to the silent man, such as, "I can't believe you made that move! You should have..."

The last time I went to Abby's was to kill some time before meeting some friends for dinner. After a few minutes Abby came up and asked if she could draw a picture of me to add to her collection of masterpieces on the walls. I told her I only have five minutes. "I can do fast ones too," she told me as she plopped down on a red velvet chair and had me to take a seat across from her.

Well it seems she can...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Songnisan National Park

***I have more pictures to post but they wouldn't load. Later.***

I love beams of light when you can see air particles floating around...

I spent Friday night in Suwon and then ended up at Suwon train station Saturday morning deciding where to go. I was going to randomly buy a ticket but I wanted go some place I hadn't yet visited so I briefly consulted my Lonely Planet and chose a KTX ticket to Daejeon, where I would take a bus to Songnisan National Park. According to LP, Songnisan means "remote from the mundane world mountains".

I love trains. I wouldn't mind taking a train trip for an entire day only to end up where I began. I don't mind bus trips either but trains are definitely my favorite. After my late start and then train/taxi/bus journey I finally arrived around 3:30 pm at Songnisan bus terminal.

As I walked towards the entrance of the Beopjusa temple I walked by a path of yellow ocher pebbles that you are supposed to walk on bare foot. I decided against it when I read this on the sign at the beginning: "It is good for festered wounds, athlete's foot and eczema..." Disgusting. I'll pass on festered wound pus-coated pebbles, thanks. I almost changed my mind though when I read that the yellow ocher, "can prevent various adult diseases such as old age..." Amazing, the possibilities for the remainder of my life now seem endless and... attainable!

I walked around Beopjusa temple and saw the giant bronze Buddha that was built after a previous giant stone Buddha began to deteriorate. After some time spent at Beopjusa I began up the trail, my destination being a mountain hut I noticed in the Lonely Planet where I was planning to spend the night. I followed two Buddhist nuns up a trail that led to a hermitage and then went back to the split in the road and took the right hand side towards the mountain hut. I stopped along the way and had dinner at one of the mountain places where amazing amounts of supplies are carried up on A-frame carriers by hunched-over men and women. It was a delicious meal of sanchae bibimbap, kimchi, cold cucumber soup, and these yummy peanuts in some sort of sticky maple syrypy-like sauce.

I got to the mountain hut, which was surprisingly nice looking. A woman came up and offered me a glass of water and a growth stunted banana. She said (I thought) sa cheon won (4,000 won) for the night (breakfast included!) but then after I was pulled out the third crinkled note and went for the coins she started saying, No, no! Sa man won (40,000)! Not good, not good at all since I only had 12,000 won on me. She asked for my travel guide and I pulled out an my 2001 Lonely Planet (I had lent Barb my more recent Moon Guide for her week trip to Busan). She yelled at me for having an old book and showed me the new Lonely Planet guide that clearly lists the price for her father's privately owned sanjang. No sleeping squished up in a big unheated room with a bunch of strangers here! Private rooms, ondol heating, showers and free breakfast (no wonder it was free) all for the price of 40,000 won per room. She laughed at me and said, "30,000 won discount, you tell all your friends to stay!" So here is the promised plug: If you're going to Songnisan, stay at Biro sanjang for a great room and even greater hospitality! (30,000 W Monday-Thurs, 40,000 Fri/Sat.)

The owners daughter knocked on my room around 9 pm and invited me to come out to the fire they had just built. I came out and shared a beer with a couple other hikers. They were 30 years old, had gone to university together and both majored in philosophy. They were cooking samgapsal and couldn't understand why I wouldn't eat it (who doesn't love pork?). A very choppy lesson on Seoul/Busan language differences, a couple shots of soju and some kimchi later I headed to my very comfortable and private bedroom for the night.

The next morning as I was getting ready to leave a Korean man asked if he could hike with me to the top. He ended up being my hiking buddy for the entire day. His name is Mr. Kim, he's 50 years old (but looks closer to 30), a bank manager, and has a 21 year old son and a wife who doesn't like to hike. If I was quiet too long he would say, "Say something!", like he was either uncomfortable with silence or wanting to practice his English language skills.

It was a fun day. Mr. Kim and I had an ice cream for breakfast and then before even 11 am we had an impromptu picnic of kimbap and Cass with a friendly ajumma going the opposite way. Ice cream, kimpab and beer: breakfast of champions! When I heard maekju (beer) in their conversation I thought I had mistaken it for miekju (chewy candy). I used to wonder why my students talked about beer so much.

The hiking was good on Songnisan. We made it to the top of some rock, I saw a freakish squirrel and then we went back down the "not-common way". On the way down we saw three foreigners going up and Mr. Kim got excited and told me to talk to them. "Hello," I said.

"Hi," they responded.

"Where were they from?!" Mr. Kim wanted to know. I started laughing and he didn't know why.

Freaky squirrel

A weird observation I get from Korean people is that I have "a very small face and small features." They seem to be fascinated with the smallness and I get comments about it fairly often. For some reason my face must have shrunk this weekend because I heard it from about 10 different people on Sunday. It makes me think of these really old shrunken heads I saw in a museum in fifth grade that were decapitated and filled with hot sand. Their faces were perfectly proportioned and their eyes were sewn shut. Creepy. But I digress.

A good day had by all on Songnisan mountain. Or at least me. Mr. Kim finally learned the difference between "clergy" and "clerk" and what it means to "have a short fuse". (I have a long fuse, he said.) I said goodbye to Mr. Kim (who stopped by a convenient store and then stuffed 2 beers in my backpack) and then walked to the bus terminal.

I hitched a ride on a charter bus full of a very enthusiastic Seoul hiking club. I had met some of them at a rest area on the mountain and they said they were going to Sadang station, which is 20 minutes from my apartment. They offered me a ride on their bus. Sweet. Nice people. Good weekend.

Another sunset from a bus.

Friday, June 16, 2006

World Cup Red Devil's

For those of you out there living on another planet or America the soccer World Cup is going on right now in Germany and South Korea is OBSESSED. I'm seeing red. Everywhere. The first Korea match was on Tuesday night against Togo. All week my students have been all geared out in their red shirts, bandannas, and devil horns in support of their team. (Supporters for the Korean team have been given the nickname 'Red Devils'.)

The first game I watched was on Monday night, Australia vs. Japan. I watched the game at Beer Valley while sharing a pitcher of beer with some co-workers. The Koreans in the bar went wild with cheers every time Australia scored. I know zilch about soccer, but I think the Australian coach used to be a coach for Korea...? Anyways, let's hope this is where the cheers where originating from and they weren't just "beat Japan" cheers, but I'm not convinced.

On Tuesday in class my students were all excited about staying up late to watch Korea's first match against Togo. In my afternoon class we played the telephone game (or Chinese whispers) and I started it out by whispering to the first kid, "Togo is the best soccer team in the world!" Wow, they really didn't like that very much! You should have seen the fantastic reaction I got! I didn't feel too bad about picking on their team after what they told me at the beginning of class...

Timmy had been absent for the last two classes and I asked the class if he was sick or if they knew where he was. Dorothy dramatically started telling me, "Timmy, ummm, he was... bicycle. Riding. Street, ummm... Car... CRASH!!" With the hand motions to go with it.

"Timmy die," The class told me.

I ran out to the desk teacher and asked her if Timmy had been run over by a car and killed. Her eyes got wide and she ran into the class and inquired. After 30 seconds of explanation by the students, the desk teacher railed into them and then turned to me and said, "Liars," before slamming the door, disturbed by the deceitful little midgets. As was I.

They became "Togo boys and girls" for the rest of class. They didn't like that very much. Maybe they won't lie about their classmates getting RUN OVER anymore now.

That night I stayed home and watched the game from my room. (I know, I know. I'll watch the next one at a more festive location.) The commentary was in Korean and I got bored before the first half was even over so I turned the volume down and read with the TV on. It turned out to be perfect this way: Every time Korea was close to scoring, I could hear the cheers on the street get progressively louder and know to look in time to see the highlights of the game. You should have heard the commotion from the street when Korea scored! Cheers, screams, clapping, horns honking, and no doubt soju glasses clinking behind it all. I put the TV on mute so I could hear the jubilation live. It was great. So Korea won and all the Koreans were delighted and honked their horns in tune to a soccer cheer all night long as they drove down the street right outside my window.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Lazy weekend

Beautiful. What the weather was not like last weekend.

This picture is from Bukhansan National Park in northeast Seoul on a Sunday a few weeks ago when the city looked fake and dreamlike without the usually compulsory layer of dull smog/fog/yellow dust draping itself over the Seoul skyline. Unlike the beautiful weather we had that day, last weekend was overcast and rainy. It was especially rainy on Saturday when Barbara and I had planned on going from Incheon to Muiido island for some beach-time and an island party later in the evening.

We went to Incheon despite the drab sky, hoping it would brighten up by the time we arrived. The sky was still dark when we got off the subway in Incheon so we stopped for lunch in China Town, where I ordered of the "vegetarian" menu. I was shocked to find such a thing in Korea but the excitement was short-lived when I received my lovely "vegetarian" rice dish with small cubes of ham impossibly mingling with the rice.

We came out of the restaurant and the sky looked long overdue for a storm. Lightening and thunder had already started and all that was missing was the rain, which came down in sheets minutes before we reached shelter. We huddled under a small umbrella under a tree while the fattest rain drops to ever piss down on Korea (since I've been here) continued to find their way, via the wind, under our half-ass shelter. We braved it for a taxi when we noticed a pause in the downpour but we soon discovered the sky was merely catching her breath for an even stronger bout of rain. We were drenched by the time we pulled the collapsed umbrella into the taxi and settled into our puddles on the seat. At least the taxi driver found it amusing.

Barbara and I dried out in a DVD bang where we proceeded to watch three movies, pig out on junk food, and disagree on which movies to watch. We ended up watching Silmido, Requiem for a Dream, and Alfie. My laziest Saturday in Korea ended up being lots of fun. Leaving a dark room where you've been watching the highlights of other people's lives play across a screen all day does leave you feeling kind of displaced though.

After our movie/food fest we went to a salt water sauna near Yonnan pier to soak and relax after a stressful day of doing nothing. We slept (as usual when sleeping at a sauna) on the floor in a room full of sprawling Koreans with blocks of wood for pillows. It wasn't quite what Barbara was expecting in terms of the sleeping arrangements and I don't know if she'll do it again but she made it through one night at least.

Sunday wasn't as bad but it was still overcast and rain drizzled down periodically throughout the day. We went to Hwagyesa and made it in time for two of the mediation sessions and then a dharma talk by Bo Haeng Sunim. He's the damned funniest monk I've ever met!

After the temple I met a couple friends for dinner at Everest for some Nepalese/Tibetan/Indian food and then a walk along the Cheongyecheon stream.

Here's to better weather this upcoming weekend.

Monday, June 12, 2006

"Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen."

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Not in Kansas anymore...

Barb and I at Soraksan

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Remembrance Day

Tuesday was a holiday so I took the chance to show Barbara around Seoul a bit. We started in Insadong by going to eat vegetarian temple food at Sanchon. Afterwards we walked to Tapgol Park and hung out with the old men in the gazebo. One man was telling us how he was born in Pyongyang and was separated from his family during the Korean war. He fought in the war and showed us a scar on his leg where he was hit with a bullet. He said he doesn't know what happened to his parents or even if they are alive still. Similar conversations happen all the time to keep me acutely aware that the war is not over.

After Tapgol Park we walked around Insadong some more, taking time to stop into the Old Teashop, where small birds fly around inside. After tea, we went to Dongnimmun station and walked up Mt. Ingwansan. We sat on a rock above Seonbawi with a view of the city below us and the sun setting behind us. We continued up further and stopped to look around and realized a shaman mourning ceremony was going on right next to us. A woman was chanting and sobbing uncontrollably as she threw the clothes of her deceased loved one into a fire.

The fortress wall and hazy view of Seoul

Sun setting behind Mt. Ingwansan

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Sleeping under the stars at Soraksan

As you can clearly see from the picture above, Soraksan was just as beautiful as it has been in the previous two seasons and this time I got to enjoy it with Barbara, who came all the way from Kansas to visit for a month! We left Friday night right after class and caught a bus to Yangyang in order to enter Soraksan via Osaek from the south side, which was a new route for me. The bus dropped us off at a small stop after dark with no chance of making it to Osaek for the night (unless we wanted to pay for a cab). We walked around until we found a minbak to sleep for the night.

The next morning we took what would end up being our last shower before 60 hours of shower-free mountain-climbing, stream-drinking and outdoor-living. We walked through Osaek and tasted the mineral water in the stream and went to a very small Buddhist temple before heading on our way to South Korea's third highest peak, Daechangbong. We walked at a leisurely pace and took several breaks to enjoy the scenery and catch our breath. It was an exhausting, but very beautiful hike.

We continued past Daechangbong and near sunset ended up at a mountain hut in the middle of the mountains with a several hour hike either way to get back to civilization. We collapsed at a picnic table shared with other Koreans, and Barb and I finally relaxed now that our long day of hiking was over and we had made it to our destination for the night. Too early for relaxing though, as I learned a minute later when went to pay for two spaces on the wood floor in the hut and found out they were all booked up. I've previously stayed in two other huts on Soraksan and didn't even consider we would encounter a problem with availability. To put it quite simply, we were screwed and the man in charge wouldn't succumb to our pleading and offer us even a blanket or a spot on the bathroom floor.

It wouldn't have been so bad if we would have had sleeping bags, a tent, or jackets, but needless to say, we didn't. We tried not to think about it as we ate our dinner, which was a mistake. We should have been scouting out a place to sleep for the night. When the darkness had completely enveloped us it stirred Barbara up and she went storming off to the man in charge who spoke no English. I just waited, expecting her to come back even more pissed off. To my surprise, five minutes later she walked up with a smile and 2 musty smelling, slightly damp blankets that would offer us protection for the night. Now that we had blankets to ward off the cold I was actually excited about the prospect of sleeping under the stars deep in the mountains! Barbara didn't share my enthusiasm but that didn't stop her from hysterically laughing with me at our situation on a few occasions before bed.

When it was time for bed (which was very early after a full day of hiking) we found a nice slab of concrete on the side of the cabin that offered us a short ledge of protection on one side. We put all of our clothes on, wrapped sarongs around us, put one of the blankets down as a pad and one as a blanket and curled up together for warmth. We slept like that all night, turning together whenever the concrete digging into our shoulders and hips began to bother one of us. I woke up at one point and saw the sky filled with stars. Nothing quite beats the ceiling provided when sleeping outside...

Monday, June 05, 2006

Paragliding in Korea

Ben, right before he flew into a tree on the side of the mountain.

Last Tuesday night, the night before the Election Day holiday, I took a bus to Dangjin in hopes of going on a paragliding trip the next day with Ben if the weather cooperated. The weather seemed perfect when we woke up at 6:30 am; we arrived at Pyeongtaek bus station by 8:45 am and a member of the paragliding group was waiting in his car to pick us up. We pulled in to Danyang, the base camp for our final destination of Sobaeksan National Park, around 11:30 am.

Most of the people on the trip were members of the paragliding group and had previously jumped before. I had never been and was hoping to do a tandem jump with "Teacher". After watching everyone practice and then one by one jump off (including the one other person I could fully communicate with) I got my chance. Teacher called me over to the edge and started outfitting me for the jump. I nearly could have fit two of my heads into the helmet.

I was patiently awaiting some rudimentary instruction of some sort to be translated through a combination of elementary English, hand signals, and basic Korean that I could understand. A good breeze comes and Teacher catches it with the parachute, bringing the huge tandem contraption into the air. "Front-a, front-a!", he yells, as I'm trying to figure out if I should run or stay still.

Before I had time to mentally prepare, we were off, but it was no smooth sailing yet. Teacher was a bit frantic, yelling at me to do something with my hands but I had no idea where to put them. I tried a couple different places, which were confirmed as wrong by the incomprehensible shouts of Teacher. Finally my hands were right but now he was yelling for me to sit down, "Anja, anja!". I thought I was sitting down but apparently I wasn't far enough back in the bucket seat attached to my pack.

At last, I could relax and enjoy the view. My adrenaline was pumping, mostly because I thought I was going to be the cause of a tandem crash into the beautiful but unforgivable trees and rocks below. Thankfully I wasn't so I could catch my breath and enjoy the ride down. It was very similar to skydiving after you open the chute: turning in circles, catching the wind, feeling weightless.

We were in the air around 7 minutes when we started to get close to the river below. We did one more big 360 over it and started heading towards the rock covered edge. Fast. I thought we would do one more loop before landing but now the small boulders were fast approaching and I had no control. I could only await my fate and hope for the best.

I was in front and hit first. The parachute went in front of us and pulled us on our stomachs, Teacher on top of me, dragging us in the rocks for a couple seconds. We came to a stop and I spit out the chalky dirt that had flown into my mouth. I came out with a couple scratches and a ripped shirt but no serious injuries.

"Good jump. Bad land," Teacher said. I agree, it was an amazing jump! I'm glad I had the opportunity to do it once before I left the country. Some advice for anyone considering paragliding in Korea: If you're a thrill seeker and want to really send the adrenaline pumping through your body, do a tandem jump with someone who doesn't speak your language with absolutely no prior instruction.
Everyone came back up for one more jump. I read and took a nap in the sun. When I woke up I thought everyone had jumped and for a minute I thought I would have to go around asking if anyone knew where a waygook, "Teacher", and some girl who went by "Ugly Dog" were. Learning Korean names is not a strong point of mine.

Me with Teacher, not knowing what the hell I'm doing...

Ben's successful first jump of the day.

Friday, June 02, 2006

3,000 bows

Early Saturday evening I somehow found myself walking sans umbrella through light rain and rumbling thunder on the road to Hwagyesa. I was sitting on the steps out front when Bo Haeng Sunim drove up and asked me what I was doing here. I said truthfully, "I don't know."

"Good Answer," he replied, "Take your backpack to room 1-3. Be upstairs for 6:00."

By chance, I happened upon the last Saturday of the month, the day of every month when 3,000 bows are done from 9:00 pm- 3:30 am. I didn't realize this until Bo Haeng Sunim mentioned it, once I arrived I assumed I would do meditation, chanting and bowing on the regular Kyol Che schedule. Nothing crazy like 3,000 bows without any mental preparation.

At 6:00 I went upstairs for chanting and then at 7:00 for one hour of sitting. The hour felt like two and at the end I thought I was going to fall asleep. I had an hour before bowing to rest but I couldn't sleep so I layed down and wondered if I shouldn't just stay in my room.

Of course, I didn't. What follows is my (perhaps overly dramatic) experience of 3,000 bows.

Around 100 people came to the temple for bowing that night. We were in the main Buddha hall on the 3rd floor of the temple. A monk at the front keeps count by hitting a stick before each bow. Kwan Seum Bosal is continually being chanted. The 6 1/2 hours is split into 6 sessions with short breaks in between and a 30 minute break at the halfway point.

8 bows- I lost count of bows. Everything hereafter is an estimate.

20 bows- This isn't so bad.

180 bows- I look at the clock for the first time and think the glowing red 9:17 must be a joke. I was expecting it to be closer to 9:40.

300 bows- The robe and pants I was given to wear are hot and slightly itchy. I look around jealously at everyone in a T-shirt. Sweat is starting to bead up and roll down my neck and forehead. Some hot drops fall with me as I bow down and I watch them soak into the pink cushion. They also go into my eyes, salty and burning, making my vision a blur. A drop is perched atop my nose, teasing me for several bows until it falls to it's death. I wipe my forehead and after the next bow leave four fingerprints behind. Why didn't I bring my water bottle?

400 bows- I'm right next to a door and I want to kiss the woman who finally opens it to let in a breeze. The rain is still falling lightly and lightening flashes intermittently bringing me back to the moment.

Lots of thinking during the first period. What am I doing on Sunday night? What am I doing on Election Day Wednesday? What do I need to do before my friend arrives on Wednesday from Kansas? What am I doing after I leave Korea? Do I need a visa for Malaysia? My Lonely Planet Malaysia will be here next week! I have to start researching. I only have 3 months left before I leave! I can't believe how fast it has gone. That means only 13 more weekends! Holy shit, most of them are going to be out-of-town, that means only a couple more weekends in Seoul! What should I do on my week vacation in August? Jeju-do maybe... And on and on and on... Incessant interlinking thoughts, many that aren't fit for a temple or this blog.

700 bows- I notice a small blister on my left middle finger from pushing off the wood floor as I stand up.

800 bows- My legs have become as sturdy as ramyeon. Which, by the way, sounds delicious since I didn't eat dinner tonight.

900 bows- The blister breaks open. I try to start bowing without using my hands for support, which is how I should have been doing it from the start.

1500 bows- I close my eyes for the first time and start chanting Kwan Seum Bosal. My thinking has slowed down considerably and I forget about my legs hurting.

At the halfway point we get a 30 minute break. Someone brings rice cakes in (the red bean kind that misleadingly look like brownies) and there is a huge container of some sort of sweet tea that everyone drinks out of bowls. I walk downstairs to my room and my legs are involuntarily shaking. At 12:30 am we start up again.

Somewhere during the last three periods I started to have what I would call auditory hallucinations-- The chant "Kwan Seum Bosal" morphed into something about time (endless time, pointless time?) for about 30 minutes and then something with "cross skull" in it. If I focused on it, I could bring Kwan Seum Bosal back, but I didn't really care either way by that point. My thinking had dramatically slowed down during the last half. In order to finish I had to exert all my energy towards the bows with hardly anything left for any thinking.

3000 bows- The three clacks at almost 3:30 am signaled the end. I hobbled down the stairs and to my room to crash.

Sunday I could hardly walk. At one point while I was sleeping Sunday night I woke up and it took me a complete minute to turn over to my stomach. Reasons and reflections on 3,000 bows will come later. No time now. I'm going to Soraksan tonight after class with Barb, who came all the way from Kansas to see me!