After getting some advice from my Korean culture professor I went and found the best temple in Seoul for foreigners to go do some meditation in. And as the website had no information on it I arrived AFTER the meditation was over. All was not lost though as afterwards their were Seon (Zen) monks doing a talk. I didn’t really know what to make of the talk as I was desperately trying to relax and be in a meditative mood for the talk. Here’s what I took from it: “I’m falling asleep, wait, I had coffee before I got the metro here. My heart’s beating fast because I had too much and now I can’t relax. Just take deep breaths. OK, now I’m relaxed. Actually the monk’s voice is quite soothing and it’s making me sleepy, and the artwork’s very beautiful, I just want to lie down, then I’ll be comfortable. Man, I’m bored. How is there only 20 minutes left, this guys been chatting for ages already. Why am I at the back where I can hardly hear him. I hate this person in front of me, they’ve deliberately positioned the moving fan so it just misses me out. He’s supposed to be a monk, he’s supposed to have compassion, this is unacceptable. It’s not on purpose stop thinking that, OK. Man, I’m sweating so much here. My legs really ache. Wow, that big gold Buddha statue is really nice”. I remind myself that this isn’t even meditation, and it’s only an hour long. I wasn’t expecting enlightenment or anything but I really couldn’t get comfy enough to get into it. Walking around the temple was the best part as it was so beautiful and in a mountainesque setting despite being still within Seoul. I’ve always found Buddhist architecture fascinating and the walking around the complex was better than listening to the monks speak, sorry guys. If time permits then I will go back and get there in time to try some meditation Korean style.
What else have I done? Well, all us students went and got taught how to make kimchi! You get a big cabbage and then season it with loads of spices and then wrap it all up so it looks like the biggest, messiest drunken kebab you’ve ever ordered and regretted for months later, or at least the messiest Subway meatball sandwich ever. We threw it in a airtight bag and that was kimchi. We have to let it ferment for at least 2 weeks (ideally 6 months to a year!) but as I leave just a week after I’ll need to give it as a gift to someone as I doubt it’ll get through customs. I wonder what a Korean would think of me for giving them a big bag of still-fermenting kimhci? I guess we’ll find out. Or as I think that’s a bit weird, it’ll probably go in the bin. A shame though as I really wanted to try it. The bin shall feast well on it.
The Korean Culture course has taught us some really interesting stuff and I’m really enjoying it as it’s more a history course which touches on everything from myth to religion to politics. I even managed to pass the first oral language exam too. We had to introduce ourselves then read what the teacher pointed at in a book (I kept wanting to say 7 but took my time and managed to remember it was a C(or a G)), and then had to name some objects the teacher pointed out. It all sounds very basic, and it is of course, but it’s a whole new alphabet and language and I’m pleased at how well it’s going. I think Korean is now officially my second language (I want to stress that this is in no way me thinking that my Korean’s anywhere near proficient but more because my previous attempts at learning French were dire). I think this can be another thing I take away from this trip, a belief in my ability to learn a new language and can look at learning a European language.
I climbed to the top of the N Seoul Tower and realised just how much Seoul is a boring city to look at. It was definitely cool to see the city from up-high but it’s just boring buildings when you think about it. I think I’m far too spoilt back at home with the amazing views from Arthurs Seat and Sailsbury Crags!
I mentioned before how much Koreans love their mobile phones, and I’ve found something they (or at least the guys here) hate as much as they love their phones: military service. Been speaking to them all about it and, surprise surprise, no one likes it. It’s a 2 year mandatory service and there’s pretty much no way out of it.