Sooooooo this post is well and truly overdue. Like a few years overdue, but rest assure it’s here now (finally!) and I hope you enjoy the read.
In 2014 when I booked my ticket to Seoul, South Korea, I had one thing in mind. To get creative and really immerse myself in the culture. I wanted to try different things and leave having learnt something new about myself. Sometimes when we travel it’s easy to get stuck in the routine of visiting only the main attractions and we forget to experience the little things. Like what truly makes a place unique? What are the local customs and traditions?
I spent a total of eight days in Seoul and this was my experience.
I spent some time in a dress making shop in Cheong –Ju, learning the art of making Hanbok. Hanbok is a formal dress for the upper class and bridal wear for the ordinary woman. I even got to try one on! I also spent a few nights with a Korean family who taught me how to cook traditional Korean food. They taught me Ddukbokkie (a dish made up of rice cakes, fish cakes, vegetables and sweet red chilli sauce) and Bibimbap (a bowl of mixed ingredients, mainly consisting of rice and vegetables). I’m not a huge fan of spicy food, so Bibimbap was definitely my dish of choice.
One part of my trip that really stood out was my buddhist temple stay at Myogaksa Temple. Nestled in the east side of Naksan Mountain, I spent three days learning the art of wellness, meditation and relaxation. Something that is valued highly amongst the people of South Korea.
During my three days, I dressed, ate and slept as the other Buddhist monks did. I was definitely out of my comfort zone at first, but somehow still felt at peace. I met five others who had signed up for the temple stay, two guys from America, a mother and daughter from Taiwan and an older gentleman from Poland. All there seeking something different from the experience.
My room was simple, an empty space with one long shelf, and a thin mat, blanket and pillow to sleep on. At first I thought I was going to have a rough two nights sleep but it was surprisingly warm and comfortable. Waking up at 4.30 in the morning to participate in the bell striking ceremony was definitely a struggle though. This ritual, performed daily, represents peace and calmness.
Seated on a cushion in lotus position ready for my first meditation class, I hear the teacher say softy, “we all have Buddhist minds, but there are layers that stop us from reaching that point”. With my interest piqued I listened on.
“Greed” she says. “Are you greedy?” Everyone remained silent.
“You don’t want to be rich?” she asks. No body answers.
“What about sleep? In the morning when your alarm goes off, you all moan and want ten more minutes of sleep right?” We all start to nod our heads. “Me too” she says, “but we should all be wakeful in this life”.
“Girls, how do you feel when your boyfriend looks at another beautiful girl? Angry? Try not to be. They look at you for your beauty, no? You shouldn’t try to change others minds. It’s not possible. Concentrate on your own mind”. As she explained different situations and how one normally reacts, I could see understanding amongst my fellow group members.
“Do not be greedy for money, food, love, sleep or success. This leads to anger and it stops you from having a Buddhist mind”.
The temple stay taught me how to clear and open up my mind, allowing me to recharge my body, easing away some of my everyday stresses and to push any kind of negative energy away.
The hardest part of the program was completing the 108 bows. The Buddhist monks do this on a daily basis, to show they are humble. Serious dedication right there! Pressing your palms together you take a deep bow and then sink to your knees. Lowering your forehead to the ground you lift your palms up slowly and thread a single bead onto a piece of string. You then slowly stand up and repeat the process 108 times. It’s incredibly difficult the first time you do it, and it’s a major workout for your thighs.
Embracing the local culture during this trip gave me an entirely new perspective on travel. I loved every minute of it, and it’s an experience I’ll remember forever.