Tag Archives: buddha

Let’s shop ‘Folk Style’ in Seoul.

Once upon a time the Seoul Folk Flea Market (서울풍물시장) vendors set up shop around the Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul, Korea. Now they return each day to well-manicured squares of space within a recently built warehouse location. Some merchants refer to the market as The Ant Market due to its many moves over the years. Thankfully, a friend who is always in the know dragged me to the market a few weeks ago. I am very glad she did.

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The vendors hope to keep the culture of the traditional market alive and the newest location is well-organized with maps and signs leading shoppers through a maze of small shops selling everything from Buddha figurines and wooden masks to designer handbags and musical instruments. With only enough time to discover the first floor of the massive market, I found great Korean souvenirs, a vintage pair of Ray Bans and a slouchy black leather bag. I will be back soon to tackle the second floor.

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Have you visited the Seoul Folk Flea Market? What great finds did you come across?

Sinseol-dong Station (Line 1 or 2 Exit 9), Closed every 2nd & 4th Tuesday, 10:00am-7:00pm

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“Free, for me?” Korea knows a thing or 2 or 10 about great service.

Living and teaching in Korea has allowed me to adopt a pretty decadent life-style. I’ve been pampered in traditional Korean bathhouses and spas, I’ve wined and dined most weekend evenings in Seoul, I’ve adopted a Korean sense of style and I can find an item that ‘I just have to have!’ in any store, and I’ve adventured throughout Korea and flown to Taiwan and Thailand all in the last year. My teaching salary has allowed me to try, see, taste and shop my way through Southeast Asia all while sending money home to the US each month to pay off student loans and other debt.

I will leave Korea in June, so I have decided to be a bit frugal and save more money in my last few months. It is comforting to know that while I am saving I can still enjoy myself in true Korean style. Korea is famous for exemplary ‘service’ and freebies. Money is great, but free things are even better.

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10 Fantastic Korean Freebies:

1) Restaurant Side Dishes

In any Korean restaurant the owners and workers believe that ‘The customer is king’. If you are an expat in Korea you are familiar with the word ‘service’ (서비스 – seobiseu). While restaurant workers do not expect tips for their service, they also do not expect diners to wait long for food or have an average culinary experience. I have not had a bad restaurant trip yet. Staff go out of their way to make sure you are happy. ‘Service’ most commonly refers to freebies gifted to customers. I have been gifted beers, bottles of soju and extra orders of barbecue meat. Of course free soju tastes delicious, but when I return home to the US I will most miss the endless supply of Korean restaurant side dishes. As a former waitress I can recall being scolded by management for giving extra honey mustard to customers without adding it to their bill. In Korea this is unheard of. Most meals come with at least 5 or 6 small bowls of delicious side dishes and they are continuously replenished during your meal for free.

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2) Cosmetic Samples

I could probably open my own store with all the samples I have. Although I am always using the samples and bringing them on overnight trips, I still have a mountainous supply. Each time I visit a SkinFood or Etude House store I leave with a bag of free samples. 

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3) ‘Just Because’ Gifts

Last Sunday night a pleasant man selling fruit out of his truck threw an extra box of strawberries and four oranges in with my original purchase. When I bought a new perfume this past summer the saleslady tossed in a straw floppy hat. And many times my local convenience store cashier chases me out of the store because I leave before he can retrieve the free juice drink (or candy bar or soda or pack of gum) I deserve because I purchased a coffee drink (or special snack or energy drink or pack of ramen). Sometimes all the free ‘just because’ gifts can get confusing, but I love them.

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4) WiFi and Phone Charging

Korea’s outstanding WiFi is something I will also miss when I am back in the US. Many of my friends choose to not pay for internet service on their smart phones or tablets because they know they can find free WiFi in most places in Korea. Here is a great resource for getting free WiFi anywhere in Korea.

Free phone charging still baffles me. Why wouldn’t stores and restaurants charge for charging stations? I was first introduced to free phone (and device) charging while at a music festival last summer. After a day of map and Google searching, hours of snapping pictures and taking videos, and endless texts to my friends who were scattered around the different music stages my phone was close to dead. I laughed at a sign next to a Vitamin Water booth (They were giving away free Vitamin Waters of course.) that advertised a ‘recharging service’. The festival was on an island and I imagined someone making ridiculous profits by providing mobile phone charger stations. When I heard another concert-goer utter ‘FREE!’ I quickly steered myself to the station.

Most bars and restaurants also provide phone charging services for free.  

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5) Food Delivery

Most restaurants in Korea deliver. And it is amazing. It is fast and free and along with the usual freebie appetizers the restaurant also includes dishes and utensils that you simply leave outside your door when you finish feasting.

6) Seoul Tours

SeoulMate offers free tours of Seoul. Their website states: We are ‘SeoulMate’, composed of university students that volunteer as special Seoul tour guides to non-Korean tourists for free. We offer the opportunities for you to make Korean friends and understand the culture of Seoul through our tour programs. Check out their website for the latest tour dates and information.

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7) Museums

Most museums in Seoul are free or very affordable. I do know the Museum of Contemporary Art is free on every fourth Saturday of the month. The War Memorial of Korea and The National Folk Museum also offer free admission.

8) Festivals

Sometimes it seems as if there is a festival going on every weekend in Korea. My favorite festival is definitely the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul. I spent the weekend in Seoul snapping pictures of the brilliantly colored lanterns, learning about Buddhism at various informational booths, and watching traditional dances, ceremonies and a parade. The entire weekend was free. Here are a few other festivals to enjoy.

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9) Promotional Goodies

Promoters in Seoul are constantly trying to give you free things. And there are no obligations. You don’t need to sign up for a credit card or give away your email address. You simply say thank you and enjoy the free gift. Last weekend my friend and I were waiting in line for concert tickets at an almost sold-out Grimes show in Hongdae. With over two hours of standing ahead of us we complained of upcoming fatigue. Luckily we scored free Monster energy drinks from a nearby promoter. I love when life works out like that.

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10) Gym Equipment

I should get a gym membership. But why pay for one when you can just use the free equipment scattered all along the river and in parks? I try to make it down to the river to walk or run at least 3 or 4 times a week and there are clusters of decent gym machines for public use on both sides of the water.

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Buddha, please forgive me for the late birthday wishes.

Happy LATE Birthday Buddha! Here is my first photo post – a few months late – from the Lotus Lantern Festival. The festival is held in honor of Buddha’s birthday, and although Seoul and Korea celebrate for the entire month of May, the festival’s biggest weekend this year was May 18-20 and included a lantern-full parade on Saturday night (see the video below). The lantern lighting symbolizes a promise and devotion to performing good deeds and is meant to bring light to dark parts of the world. This year’s festival theme was: “Peace to our mind. Happiness to our world.” Enjoy a few pictures from the weekend in Seoul.

Many people walked in the parade with matching lanterns to distinguish groups.

A few lanterns from the parade including an astronaut lantern, why not?

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This is one of my favorites. These monks were trying to organize for a photo but they were all having too much fun being social and couldn’t stand still.

Lanterns lanterns everywhere… Where do they go after the birthday party is over?

Lanterns decorated the river walkway in downtown Seoul.

Remember:

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be mindful of your shoes and mind – Haeinsa Temple Stay

A few Saturdays ago, instead of relishing in the time that is a weekend morning without work, I struggled out of bed before 6am, threw a few random overnight necessities into a bag and headed out to find where the heck the Uijeongbu bus terminal was located… I had originally been hesitant to commit to a temple-stay weekend with friends at the end of April, not because I wasn’t eager to sleep, eat and learn at a Buddhist temple for a night, but because I had already enthusiastically scribbled over the entire weekend on my calendar: LADY GAGA WEEKEND!! I wasn’t sure if I could squeeze a megastar pop concert (the biggest show at the Olympic Seoul Stadium since MJ) and a spiritually rejuvenating temple visit into one single weekend. In the end I realized I could do both, I would have to forgo the Friday post-concert night out in Seoul to be physically able to get up and leave for the temple Saturday, but in the end it was very much worth the sacrifice.

After a 4+ hour bus ride, a subway excursion and another 1+ hour bus ride we made it to the Haeinsa Temple located in the Gaya mountains of Hapcheon-gun (county) in the southeast part of the country. The temple’s name means ‘Temple of Reflection on a Smooth Sea’, which is taken from a passage in the Avatamsaka Sutra where the wisdom of the Buddha is compared to a calm sea. When the mind — like the sea — is freed from the waves of worldly desire, it will perfectly reflect existence as it truly is.” (http://english.visitkorea.or.kr)

I had signed up for the temple-stay unaware of the significance of the Haeinsa Temple. The weekend’s plans were orchestrated by a friend and I had appreciated the calm in not having to plan any of the travel logistics. I should have asked which particular temple we were visiting, but I got caught up in my busy teaching weeks and failed to educate myself on the trip beforehand. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Haeinsa Temple is one of Korea’s three largest Buddhist monasteries, or one of the “Three Jewels” as Korean Buddhists call them. The temple is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site (added in 1995) because it has been home to the Tripitaka Koreana, a selection of wooden printing blocks (81,350 of them!) of 13th century Buddhist scriptures that make up the most complete and oldest edition of the Buddhist canon in Chinese characters, since 1398.

The temple was first built in 802. Legend says that two Korean monks returned from China, Suneung and Ijeong, and healed King Aejang (애장왕, 哀莊王) wife’s of her illness. In gratitude of the Buddha‘s mercy, the king ordered the construction of the temple.  Another account, by Choe Chi-Won in 900 states that Suneung and his disciple Ijeong, gained the support of a queen dowager who converted to Buddhism and then helped to finance the construction of the temple. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haeinsa)

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Haeinsa is nestled into the quiet mountainside of one of Korea’s national parks. A brief hike from the bus stop to the entrance of the temple revealed how far from the bustling streets of Seoul we really were. After checking-in with the main office we were given our temple stay uniforms and guided to our overnight room. I was exhausted from the day of traveling and the lack of sleep the night before, but I was primed – and a bit nervous – to start the stay.

The bus dropped us off at the base of a hill in the Gaya mountains. We followed the Korean crowds up the hill to the temple. Although only a small group of us (mostly foreigners) were there for an overnight stay, I was surprised at the sea of Koreans hiking, exploring and enjoying the serenity of the temple during the day on Saturday and Sunday.

We stopped to admire many signs of Buddhist art and sculpture before even reaching the temple gates.

The architecture was fantastic – I am in love with the temple colors!

This area of the temple is home to the the Buddhist instruments that are used to announce the time for monks to practice their daily rites. The instruments include the dharma drum, the wooden fish and the large brahma bell.

I experienced the drumming of the dharma drum once in the evening as the sun set on Saturday and also at 3:20am on Sunday when the day began for the Haeinsa Temple monks and Buddhist practitioners. The drum beats to save all beings living on earth, from humans to animals to ants, and so on. The sound of the beating drum is considered to echo the sound of Buddha’s teachings. (http://english.visitkorea.or.kr)

Our temple stay crew in our fashionable uniforms! They were not the least bit flattering, but they were definitely comfortable.

Saturday night we drank traditional tea with our guides and made our own lotus lanterns. It was a relaxing end to the day and we were surprised with a visit from a Haeinsa Temple monk who came to sit with us and answer any questions we had. His words were translated with help from our guides, and he stressed that we take what we learned in the temple home to incorporate into our daily lives as needed. It was a pleasantly relaxing activity, I loved sitting quietly among the rest of the group as we all worked creatively with our hands and listened to the monk. We all broke out in smiles and low giggles when the room was suddenly filled with song and the monk sheepishly fished out his cell phone from his pocket and excused himself from the room to take a call.

Bedtime was 9pm on Saturday night, and in my opinion it was the perfect time to head to bed. To be honest, my sleep patterns in Korea have been a bit sporadic. I teach everyday from 1-8pm, so most nights I find myself staying up very late and waking up each morning when most of my friends have already put in a solid few hours of productive work. In my 2+ months in Korea, this night was the first night I was in bed with my eyes closed before 11pm – let alone 9pm! I was exhausted and drifted off to sleep effortlessly. Although my bed consisted of only a few blankets and a small pillow on the hard floor, I was instantly comfortable. The front door of the “dorm” was open and fresh air and the sounds from a  monk-made stone waterfall lulled me to sleep…until my alarm sounded at 2:55am.

One of the teaching moments that stayed with me from the weekend was a brief explanation of the placement of your shoes from our guide. She explained: You must be mindful of your shoes and in turn the mindfulness will spread into other parts of your life. This was during our first monk/temple etiquette class as the guides were introducing themselves to us. One of them pointed to the pile of shoes at the room entrance. We had all been in a hurry to change into our uniforms and find the class meeting room. Many of us had unknowingly shuffled out of our shoes and left them scattered outside the room. The guide explained that how we arrange our shoes tells a lot about us and our state of mindfulness. After that I took the time to carefully place my shoes neatly outside each temple room we entered.

 

We hiked up to another small temple that is situated away from the main temple where monks can practice in complete silence.

There were fountains sprinkled all over the temple grounds where people used plastic scoops to drink the water. I simply followed.


There were so many tiny spots of art that you could easily miss while trying to take it all in. The attention to detail is amazing!

I am most familiar with the Nazi use of the swastika and I was unaware that it was first used in ancient civilizations around the world. Today it is still used in religions including Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The symbol is meant to evolve ‘shakti’ or the sacred symbol of auspiciousness. The swastika is also a Chinese character that is used in East Asia to represent eternity and Buddhism.

It doesn’t matter how much sleep you get, 3am is rough if you are not used to it. The early wake-up was a bit difficult and I snapped a picture of myself to document my earliest wake-up in Korea thus-far. We soon realized it was worth it to experience the first dharma drumming of the day.

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Although this is only a taste of my stay, it was a stunning weekend and I returned to Uijeongbu on Sunday night physically exhausted but mentally refreshed and looking forward to my next temple stay. Not all temples are the same, so I am intrigued to see what the next one will reveal.

Thanks for reading!

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