Thursday, May 23, 2013
Buddhism is the leading belief system in South Korea (if you consider Protestantism and Catholicism as distinct religions), so the birth of Buddha is celebrated with great pomp and pageantry every year. A Chinese friend of mine was in Seoul for a business trip, and he joined me for the day as we participated in the festive activities on offer throughout the city.
Our first stop was the Jogyesa Temple, a large complex located in the heart of old Seoul. The principal temple of the Jogye Order and the centre of Zen Buddhism in Korea, its roots can be traced back over five hundred years. A colourful hive of activity, Jogyesa is not the kind of place to visit for a serene meditative experience. However, it does provide a good introduction into the world of Korean Buddhism.
When we first entered the complex, we were ushered into a movie theatre. A highly entertaining documentary was shown explaining how Korea was the greatest nation on Earth. One infographic compared the total number of inventions made in Korea with the sum total of every invention made by all other countries in the world in a year. It was a tight race, but Korea came out on top. It also highlighted the fact that Korea has the best alphabet system ever concocted. Hanguel is a highly elegant system that replaced the traditional Chinese characters that were previously used by Koreans.
After the film concluded it was time for us to make some traditional paper lanterns. Volunteers guided us as we crafted a masterpiece out of coloured paper and adhesive. We explored the temple grounds for a while and ate a vegetarian meal, consisting predominantly of sticky rice.
We were given instructions to go to Tapgol Park as some VIP seating was reserved for foreigners. We had front row seats to view the Lotus Lantern Festival Parade being held to commemorate Buddha's birthday. As the parade neared its conclusion, we were pulled in to the procession to add a multicultural flavour to the festivities. We held our handcrafted lotus lanterns high and waved to the adoring crowds as we passed by.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Picturesque and quaint, Hoi An is a delightful Vietnamese town located at about the midway point of the nation longitudinally. Although they share the same letters in their English spelling, Hoi An and Hanoi are totally unrelated. The small town was once a prominent port in Southeast Asia during a bygone era of ceramics and spice trading. Forgotten by the world for a couple of centuries, the World Heritage site retains much of its traditional architecture and charm.
Hoi An was the place to be for merchants and traders from across Europe and Asia from the 15th to 18th centuries, before falling into obscurity. Touristy yet quiet, the streets of Hoi An are eminently navigable. They are dotted with boutiques, restaurants, cafes, and the requisite tailor shops where Western backpackers can buy affordable custom made suits that they can wear when attending interviews for lowly paid internship positions once they return home.
Before arriving in Hoi An, I made a quick stop at Danang to visit the Museum of Cham Sculpture. When the French set up camp in nearby Da Nang and established it as one of their strongholds in Indochina, the glory days of Hoi An came to a quick end. On the taxi ride from Da Nang to Hoi An I saw massive construction projects of luxury villas and golf resorts taking place along the whole stretch of the coastline, so I was relieved to find the actual ancient town still well preserved.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Chuncheon hosts an international mime festival each year. Foreigners in Korea who do not fluently speak the local tongue soon become accomplished mimes themselves, so I was interested in seeing the abilities of some of my peers. The mime portion of the festival was rather boring though, with only a few moderately skilled performers on hand. The scene stealer was a spectacular set piece that dangled in the skies. A fireball was lifted above the crowds by a crane, held in place by a barely visible cable that did not hinder the effect of the great ball of fire.
What was supposed to be a mime festival broke out into a full fledged water fight on Chuncheon's main thoroughfare. Buckets of water were provided and the citizens let loose with much gusto. It was a welcome change from the stiff necked formality of Seoulites. One courageous little boy gingerly edged towards me, aimed his water pistol in my direction, gently squeezed the trigger, and ran away. His aim was true, as I had to wipe my glasses dry to regain my vision after his strike.
I grew hungry and headed for Myeongdong Dakgalbi Street, where a row of specialty restaurants awaited me. Chuncheon's claim to Korean fame is its delicious dakgalbi, a chicken dish mixed with vegetables, rice cakes, and occasionally cheese. It is cooked on the dining table on a large iron pan or directly over charcoal. Like a hot glance from a shy K-girl on a crowded subway, eating dakgalbi is a tantalizing experience that lingers on in one's memories for many days after.
Saturday, May 4, 2013
Me: This paragraph so easy to understand.
Korean girl: Nooooooo. Don't say that! English is not our mother tongue.
Me: It's not mine either.
Korean girl: Really? Oh.. it's Indian?
Me: Yes, first I learnt Bengali and then English. Also some French in school, and some Hindi in India, some Chinese, and some Korean. So Korean is actually the sixth language I understand a bit of.
Korean girl: Stop bragging!!
Me: I also look good both with and without a beard.
Korean girl: Aiyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.