Monthly Archives: January 2007

women should be able to smoke and sit anywhere

Hay-gyung’s friend and his sister arrived tonight, and he happens to speak Chinese fluently so he and Xiao are enjoying themselves. he seems really cool and speaks Chinese amazingly fast – but unfortunately speaks no English; its been interesting to hear Xiao speak in his native tongue. Xiao decided to take a ferry to china this Friday, so his time here is coming to an end. I am both saddened and relieved by this. the sunnims finally convinced him to shave his face and I have a feeling that if he stayed on any longer they’de convince him to shave his head too – it’s clear that they wish he’d become a monk and stay here. haha.

meanwhile, I’ve become accustomed to the rhythm here and if anything I hope to take that rhythmic comfort home with me and put it to use. we wake up every day at 7am for breakfast together then we work for awhile, I clean up my room, roll up my bed, brush my teeth, check my email and work on my lesson plan for the day. at 10am we pray together until 11ish in the Buddha hall. at 12 we have lunch together, then I finish my lesson plan, make copies and prepare the classroom. the kids arrive at 1:50, pray, and then we start. at 5 they leave, I take a break, we have dinner together at 6 and then lounge around and talk over tea/coffee. then I have free time, but I usually go to bed around 8 or 9 because I get so tired. this daily schedule is a welcome relief to the sporadic chaos I usually create in my life. I am looking forward to seeing if I can apply this comfort at home…

the morning sunrise is to die for-


enjoying my rock-like pillow and cozy floor bed –


my and Hay-gyung’s room (as well as any other women who happen to be staying overnight in the temple, this room can house at least 5 if i give up my wimpy habit of sleeping on the meditation cushons… haha….) –


the reality of a cold shower in a plastic bowl –


part of me is homesick. part of me is comfortable and satisfied. part of me despises sexism, namely; the obvious sexism demonstrated at the tables. I didn’t notice the seating prior to Xiao’s arrival, but it has become clear that the arrangement is regimented and structured. Kunsunnim and the other sunnims sit together at the first table, then the men that hang out around the temple or live here sit at the next table, and women sit at the last. my heart began spewing red flames when I realized that even though Xiao has no purpose here, his looks are unappealing to the monks (hair in the face and beard, until today..), and he’s a cultural idiot – he is more privileged and honored than I am because of his sex. so we have been talking of switching seats. I tried to sit next to Apa today, but was booted for Kunsunim’s older brother who is extremely quiet and seems to spend his time digging holes in random places around the temple. at dinner today Hay-gyung was asked to move down a seat to make one closer to the sunnims for a man who arrived late to dinner. I can’t stand this.

how can I enjoy this culture and revel in my newfound passion for Buddhism when so many aspects of both are tied to sexist, patriarchal traditions? should I suppress my American feminism? would this be a way of humbling myself? or should I call the shit, defy cultural norms, trade seats with Xiao and refuse to move?
wouldn’t that be interesting.

this realization of sexist traditions is not a new one for me. I definitely gained an understanding of it during my last semester here through the societal pressures, especially surrounding physical appearance. women are also discouraged from smoking, which causes closeters to resort to smoking in women’s bathrooms – everywhere. at bus stops, universities, national monuments, restaurants, and everywhere else I have visited there have been signs, sometimes obvious, like cigarette butts on the floor and ashes on the toilet, to just a lingering smell. this is just one ode to the discrimination. while I want to conform to this culture and break negative stereotypes of westerns, specifically Americans, I find it increasingly hard to suppress my hatred of sexist traditions and am feeling really fed up with it.

 i’ve got to find a way to balance my passions with my desire to be culturally sensitive and seperate myself from some of my ideologies. so much harder than it sounds…


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of undergarments and speedy consumption


today the kids told me that my head was shaped weirdly, and all of my freshly washed clothes froze to the clothesline. the sunrise was spectacular and we had curry for lunch, bosarnim served it to me again at dinner because she noticed how much I loved it, due to the increased speed of my consumption – although I still finished long after everyone else. why is it that Koreans eat so damned fast? in the US, I’de consider myself a pretty average eater, but here I feel like a snail. no matter how fast I attempt to shovel my food everyone else is barreling on at 120 miles an hour. even Xiao finishes before me sometimes. and its not that I don’t use chopsticks well, because I do, and we usually use spoons too, anyway. it’s not only here at the temple that I have experienced this rapid consumption, but all over the peninsula. so. my own synopsis would simply be that Koreans are always in a hurry, more so than most Americans perhaps, and that this rushedness is amplified by the homogenized culture.

most of my laundry is drip-drying in my room now and much of it has to be concealed because of it’s revealing nature. pants, t shirts, long-sleeved shirts and socks are allowed on the line but my tank tops and undergarments have to be hung in my room and hidden underneath towels and jackets that also happen to be hanging up. I feel like they deny the existence of lingerie at the temple the same way that the rest of the country denies the existence of gays.

however, heated floors are a massively genius idea. it makes sleeping on them much less of a chore… ahhh…

the buddha hall is right next to my room, i took this through the doorway –


the outdoor kitchen and kimchee pots –


yellow bean paste curing from the rafters of the office, where i am now –



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weekend in the big city


after a cold and busy weekend in Seoul i am “home” to where the rooms are slightly warm and the rules are much stricter, but home it is. i almost missed the quietude and peace when i was in the big city.

it snowed quite a bit while we were in Seoul, but we still managed to have a pleasant time of it. Insadong is always such a pleasure, but the real highlight was visiting with my old roommates last night in Sincheon. sometimes you don’t realize how much you’ve missed someone; how much you know about their idiosyncracies; how long you’ve been apart; until you are reunited. it felt like i’de never even left.

we spent friday night at So-youn’s in Garak where we went out to drink and then woke up to delicious fruit and yogurt, her parents being fruit dealers at the gigantic market there. we visited with friends all over the city, but many of them canceled because of the bad snow which was sad, but what can you do? we stayed last night at a jimjilbang in southern Seoul with my friend Pil-jin and this morning with empty pockets we took the subway to the train station and headed home. this bizarre korean girl that was sitting in front of us asked if she could have her picture taken with me (which was not an entirely wierd request on it’s own, believe it or not, but what followed was a bit quirky…). we took the photo and then she said that she was traveling alone and would like to share the ride with us. we said sure, and she actually turned the entire seat around to face ours and proceeded to paint our fingernails in neon polishes – each a different color – and i say “ours” because she painted Xiao’s too, for which he received a bit of flack from the monks when we returned to the temple. tee hee.

what followed was a dance of human interraction, a combination of meeting her english abilities and enduring her constant photo-shoot and drawing sessions. Xiao loved it all and showed her his pictures of Tibet. the converstation was constant and eccentric.

back at the temple; i am tired of cold weather, which is hilarious because we really haven’t seen anything yet and we’ve only gotten about 2 inches of snow. but part of me wants to be home with my kittens. part of me hates showering the bathroom with a spray nozzle in a plastic bowl with cold water, part of me doesn’t care about “endurance” and “building character”. i’m slightly fed up. i miss the freedoms that i had here before, and the cash. the temple is toughening me and i feel like it’s going to be really empowering in the long run. i love the kids. but it’s just such tough work!

Xiao and i looking way too cool


visiting Anji at the hospital. tear.


fancy tea with Xiao, So-youn, Song, Yo-jin


amazing Jogyesa, the Buddhas are immensely impressive




a cool art market in Insadong –


Venus in Korea…


the train ride home wasn’t really as bleak as it looks here –



the awesomely crazy girl who entertained us all the way back to Youngju –


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fastest post ever –

i have three minutes to type up a post at the computer that i am using at the cheongnaynee train station. the weekend in Seoul was totally amazing and it was so great to see so many of my old friends and my roommates again, but the weather here was harsh. we walked around Insadong for a while and visited the Jogyesa temple. glorious. its a beautiful day and Xiao and i are on our way back to the temple. the big city is almost too much for me now that i have something to really contrast it to.

lost in Cheongnyangee and playing with my cellphone – like any korean would. (exempting the ‘being lost’ part…)


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i just wrote an entire post and lost it. arrrrg. stupid korean computer. you suck.

my class will be here soon.

i am going to seoul this weekend. everything is fine.

i hate computers.

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of ESL and Xiao

xiao arrived last night and yesterday my students all said that they wanted a longer class period because they had so much fun. yippee! me too!

the class did go very well – the students were an absolute delight and the only challenge will be to keep up with them. they are all fairly profficient, but there is a huge variance in levels. today i will split them up and attempt to challenge both groups.

how do i like this whole ESL thing? not much. i don’t find it very compelling, but my adoration for kids outweighs my hatred of the english langauge. with this class i  really want to focus on conversational skills, which is something that i can really offer as a native speaker – and – its also a nice change from their usual monotonous accademic rigor. most students use winter break time to study at hagquans and at home. their study hours are long and rigorous, sometimes causing them to have physical ailments  – young girls often fainting or ending up in the hospital. this is the frightening, fanatic side of the asian passion for education and intellectualism.

so yeah. Xiao flew in last ight and totally stressed me out because he wouldn’t follow my directions on how to get here and doesn’t speak a word of korean. he called me from a pay phone at the bus station in Incheon, and made it to Young-ju by 11:30 pm. Apa and Opa picked him up, and then we stayed up for a few hours, enjoying tea and being alone at the temple while everyone slept. it is so amazing to have him here that i can hardly believe it. there is a certain irony to the fact that it was Xiao who at one time taught me about asian cultures and ways at his little buddhist home with his father in Viola, and now he is here – stumbling through a culture and language that he knows little about while i navigate the waters.

i just finished morning prayers in the buddha hall and am working on my lesson for today. we’re going to learn about birthdays, do coloring dictation, learn a song and practice a short korean play. Xiao is resting in the guest room. Hay-gyung and i just washed the three little dirty pups that were donated to the temple recently. they were almost white after the scrubbing. Kun-suh-nim is fond of Xiao, despite his awkwardness and long hair, and has invited us back for the summer. i am not able to return that soon, but Xiao seemed like he was thinking about it.

photos coming soon.


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maxin just won’t do

its 9am here now and after a sound sleep from 7 to 7 (wow!) and a breakfast of rice, seaweed soup and kimchee i feel ready to face the day. the students will arrive at 2 (actually, we are responsible for picking them up from their homes in the temple’s “mini-bus-uh”). i feel as ready as i can be.

its cold today and the sun is trying to shine through the thick clouds and over the sharp mountains that are scattered for miles beyond the temple. Xiao is probably somewhere over the pacific right now, dreaming sweet dreams of kimchee and michaelangelo. i am really excited for him to arrive so that i will have someone to talk to, and because i have missed him so much.

last night i was served a disgusting concoction of ground ginseng and milk, forcing me to wonder how far i would go to be polite. i think i would consume pretty much anything that is a cultural norm if others are doing the same. i began to think up hypothetical situations where i would be challenged – eating boiled silkworms, live octopi or dogmeat are all possibilities here. not at the temple, because of it’s inherent vegetarianism (perhaps why i feel most comfortable here…) but throughout the country, no doubt. relatively speaking, this cuisine is quite tolerable in comparison with others and i think i am fully capable of consuming anything served to me here. maybe.

anyhow. the bosar-nim gave me a bright pink scarf today. why is it that these people always think of bright pink when they think of me? is this my fault? or maybe they are consciously trying to cure my hatred of the obnoxious color. hmmm.

i don’t miss home much. but it’s cold here and i hate having to clean up my room and roll up my bedding every night. and i  l o n g  for a righteous cup of coffee and severely regret not bringing some. maxim just won’t cut it. isn’t there a feminine hygenic product that also bears that name? perhaps that contributes to my animosity for the gross instant coffee… 





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