When I booked my ticket to Seoul, South Korea, I had one thing in mind. To really immerse myself in the culture. I wanted to try different things and leave having learnt something new about myself.
Sometimes when we travel we get stuck in the routine of visiting only the main tourist attractions and we don’t fully immerse ourselves in the culture that surrounds us. My trip was a total of 8 days and in this time I experienced Seoul like a local.
I spent my first few days 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! During this time I lived 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 fan of spicy food, so Bibimbap was definitely my dish of choice.
One part of my trip that really stood out to me was my three day temple stay at Myogaksa Temple, nestled in the east side of Naksan Mountain. What an incredible experience this was. It showed me just how much of South Korea focuses on wellness, meditation and relaxation.
During my three days, I dressed, ate and slept as Buddhist monks did. I was definitely out of my comfort zone, but somehow still felt at peace. 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. However, waking up at 4.30 each morning to participate in the bell striking ceremony was definitely a struggle. This ceremony is performed twice a day (morning and night) with the sound of the bell representing peace and calmness.
I met five other travellers 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. It was incredible to hear about their travels and why they chose to participate in the temple stay.
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 control others. It’s not possible. Concentrate on yourself”. As she begins to explain different situations and how one normally reacts, I could see everyone start to nod at what she was saying.
“Do not be greedy for money, food, love, sleep or success. This leads to anger and it stops you from having a Buddhist mind”.
She made some valid points in my opinion.
The temple stay taught me how to clear and open up my mind, focus on positivity, allowing me to recharge my body and easing away some of my everyday stresses. It was also fun! A lot of laughs shared whilst participating in the traditional tea ceremony.
The hardest part of the temple stay 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 sink to your knees. You then bow a second time by pressing your forehead to the ground. Slowly lifting your head you take a piece of string and thread a single bead onto it. Once this is done you stand up and repeat the process 108 times. After bead 20, it becomes extremely difficult and a major workout for your thighs!
Immersing myself in Korean culture, gave me an entirely new perspective on travel. These are the types of experiences one truly remembers. And they’re great stories to tell back home too!
*All opinions are my own*