Jogyesa Temple services


Today I felt drawn towards making another visit to Jogyesa Temple in Insadong. And I arrived just in time for the Sunday night service! The service was led by a monk who sang and played music…it was deeply moving.

I took a cue from my fellow temple go-ers and grabbed a couple of kneeling mats and made myself at home. I watched the other people~some were singing along with the monk, others were doing the 108 kneeling bows, so I did that, too. I felt very “at home” as the kneeling was very similar to yoga salutations (mountain through to child pose basically). It was actually really cool, almost bone chilling, to link the familiar yoga poses with the actual spiritual part, inside a temple, during a service. The experience, the group singing in a beautiful language, reminded me of my childhood spent at Jewish temple, and tears and emotions flooded my eyes as I kneeled and prayed (to Buddha, to God…to the Universe…to. something bigger than us humans).
At the end of the service, an old ajjima (old lady) came up and started talking to me in Korean and smiling reallllly big…I think she was saying something about the 108 bows. anyways, I thought that was kinda cute. I just replied with a big smile, too and said something along the lines of, “yes, bows! it’s great!”.
I am compelled to learn more about Buddhism…and am planning a templestay next paycheck. Stayed tuned!

Spa Girl Abroad: Onyang Hot Springs

Onyang Hot Springs South Korea

I’ve been feeling the pull to venture out for a solo daytrip for a couple weeks now…and what could be better than a day at the hot springs after dancing, singing, playing, “heavy-weight lifting” with 4 year olds all week???

So I ventured off in the AM, not quite settled on which hot spring to go to…I just headed out to Seoul Express Bus Terminal and figured I would wing it.
At the suggestion of my “Korea Sparkling” guidebook (a freebie I picked up at a tourist office), it was between Icheon Hot Springs and Onyang…both a little over an hour outside Seoul.
I asked the lady at the ticket window, “which better, Onyang or Icheon?”
She replies, “Onyang!”…and so I hopped on the 10:10am bus.
I was pretty excited to be off doing something on my own, and somehow got the idea that I was going to some rural area. I was a lot disappointed to see that Onyang looks a lot like…well..parts of Seoul! :/
Anyways, the actual Onyang Hot Springs are located inside the Onyang Hot Springs Hotel. I paid 5,500 won to get in, was handed towels and locker key, and in traditional Korean bathhouse style, stripped down to my birthday suit! The layout of the hotsprings is similar to any Korean bathhouse or jjimjilbang, with several baths of different temperatures and wet/dry saunas.
Onyang is the oldest hot spring in Korea, and is supposedly a tourist hotspot. However, I was the only Westerner there and could feel quite a few stares, but I just looked these ladies in the eyes and gave ’em a big smile that said, “don’t worry about me, I’ve done this Korean spa thing before”…
I beelined for the outdoor pool, where the sun was shining and I was thinking, “suntan suntan suntan”. Ahhhh the power of a little sun. I lazed in the pool for a while, then layed out on the ground around the hot spring pool. It felt so good to just allow the healing waters and sunlight do their magic. At one point, a Korean lady offered me her spot in the shade, which I politely declined. It’s so funny how they want to be whiter and us Westerners want to be darker.
My favorite part about the outdoor pool was what I want to call “massage waterfalls”. These are amazing! It was almost as good as getting a deep tissue massage. You just stand in the pool, underneath the waterfalls, and direct the water towards your shoulders, neck, back, tight hammies, anything. This week in particular, my stress had manifested itself in my neck. Fun. Been getting acupuncture all week for it. And I was able to get lots of those kinks out with the waterfall massage.
After a few hours at the springs, I hopped on another bus back to Seoul. Slept like a baby the whole ride home.

Kebab Korean Fusion

The last 2 days I’ve been craving kebab. Must’ve had too much Korean food over the Deok Jeok Do island weekend.
So, the last 2 nights, I ate kebab.
The chicken is just sooooo tasty, greasy, salty, and delicious…but the bun and/or flatbread they put it on is made with nothing but nasty white starch. So what is a girl to do?
Last night I ate at Mr. Kebab in Itaewon. The chicken was very tasty, especially with the garlic sauce all over it. The garlic sauce, according to the owner, is a mixture of garlic, mayo, yogurt, and his “secret”. I asked Mr. Kebab owner for a fork, since I don’t eat white starchy bread. I was in kebab heaven for about 2 minutes, but I left Mr. Kebab feeling like I wanted 10 more kebabs…
So I’ve been taking note of how Koreans take most fillings here and wrap it in lettuce or gim (dried seaweed). Meat, fish, rice, veggies, you name it. Clever. Healthy. Calorie saver. Adds some heft to the meal. And wayyyy more nutritious than bread.
So…
tonight I ordered a take-out kebab from Istanbul…tonight a mix of chicken and falafel…
had some leftover gim and sesame leaves from a couple nights ago…and added some of my homemade yogurt to the side..and…
Voila!
 
 

 

Deok-Jeok-Do Island Getaway

over Buddha’s Birthday weekend, 5 of us took a ferry to the island of Deok Jeok Do, located about an hour away from Incheon Airport

When we arrived on Friday afternoon, the weather was picture perfect…Everyone was just thrilled to be at the beach. I felt right at home taking a nap on the sand right when we arrived!

We stayed at a minbak, which is sort of a korean version of a bed and breakfast. We slept on blankets on the floor which was actually very comfy. So comfy I’ve started sleeping on my floor at home, in fact. Anyways, the family that owned it was warm and friendly to us…even letting us pick the veggies off their farm.  Here’s some cultural authenticity!

Being silly on the beach and collecting shells.

photos above: a. brady 🙂

 The next 2 days it rained.

 And I became a sourpuss.

I realize I need to work on not letting a little bad weather affect my moods. But this particular weekend i felt even worse than the usual bad weather blues. I felt homesick and a little, okay a lot, lost.

I talked to a couple friends about it.

One idea was that it was just a case of culture shock hitting me during the 4th month.

I sensed that it was more than that.

It took a couple days after getting back from Deok Jeok Do to figure out what the hell came over me.

 My take on it: I felt like i wasn’t in control…

I’m used to planning everything and doing everything solo…

and not used to letting someone else take the driver’s seat.

So next time i need to become aware of this feeling before heading out on the trip, by acknowledging that the trip is not in my hands, or by taking on some part of the trip planning task.

 P.S. After all that psychobabble being said…I’m grateful to Jeno for planning this trip (otherwise, it probably never would have happened!).

 Anyways, We were all looking forward to a beach getaway complete with suntans…but we made the best of our rained-out beach vacay by cooking yummy food, and finding a kareoke bar… 🙂

 

The farmland outside of our minbak where we picked our own veggies

we cooked! (well, Jeno did…thanks Jeno!)

 

we shared sea snails with our minbok neighbors! (yum!)

we noraebanged mid-day! That’s kareoke gone wild… (picture tbd)

 

and we ate some more. This Sunday brunch of bean paste stew (tenjin jigae) and all the sides was only $5).

keeping dry with lovely Jeno on the way to the ferry.

photo: a. brady

 see you next time, Deok Jeok Do!

Cultural Cravings

Joy in Street Food; Seoul, South Korea
photo by me

Headed off to the island of Deok-Jeok-Do today!

My first time out of the city of Seoul since I arrived nearly four months ago.

So excited to spend time with good people and be at the beach.

The last couple days something has been bothering me. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then last night I walked through the alleys of Itaewon, my neighborhood which is known for it’s gearing towards foreigners.

I found a couple nooks and crannies that actually felt really Korean. and my heart skipped a beat.

I can’t deny that I’m craving some cultural authenticity out of Korea. It’s what I wanted out of my travels.

Seoul is wonderful in that you can get around without knowing much Korean. Many a sign is in English.

But the things that excite me most are the little alleyway markets and experiences that make me actually feel I’m in a very foreign land. Communicating successfully through hand gestures and exchanges involving the few Korean words I know and the few English words a little ajjima (Korean old lady) knows can put me on a high.

Last week at the Lantern Parade, I had my first “holy crap, I really AM in Asia” moment. Surrounded by a celebration of a foreign culture, swept away by the beats of a korean drum, mentally and spiritually satisfied by the visual parade and music of a proud korean people, young and old, carrying beautiful lanterns through the streets of Seoul, passing through the ancient temples…

It took me nearly 4 months to have that ah-ha! moment…

Stand by for a Korean adventure…tbd…

Home Cookin’, Korean-Style

Let me just start by saying I adore Asian food. The parents took me to the sushi bar at the ripe ole’ age of six, and Western food just never tasted good again. Give me Japanese, Korean, or Thai any day over pizza, burgers, spagetti, and tacos. 

 During college, I used to drive a half hour to the Asian market just to get some of these ingredients to eat at home. Now they are available in alleyways all over Korea for radically insanely cheap prices.

Even though eating out in Korea is extremely cheap, it’s even cheaper to eat at home if you get the right ingredients. Plus, in Korea, eating usually is a social thing, and if you are in a meditative mood, well, sometimes home cooking is good for the “Seoul”.

The Kitchen…

yes, this explains why most of the food is raw and uncooked in the following pictures. I avoid turning on this hotplate…

The creations…

 Dotorimuk + Nigari Dubu (tofu) + sesame oil + soybean paste + green onions

Dotorimuk is a jelly made from acorn starch. It’s low in calories, high in protein and several vitamins and minerals. 

Mung Bean Jelly…same idea as Dotorimuk, but made from mungbeans…


Homemade yogurt by Elisa! 

After being on antibiotics for two weeks, it was important to get the good bacteria going again my system.  Korean yogurt tends to be loaded with tons of sugar, so I made my own lower-sugar option by adding store-bought yogurt (for it’s cultures) to milk. 

How to make homemade yogurt:

1.Dump 1 cup of yogurt and 1 carton of milk into tupperware.

2. Fill sink up with hot water. Cover tupperware and allow to sit overnight.

3. Voila, fresh plain yogurt in the morning. Refrigerate and enjoy!

Afterschool snacks! Dried squid and xylitol sweetened gum.



Lotus Lantern Festival, Seoul, South Korea

Okay, I officially am having a wonderful time here in Seoul!

The weather is now sundress worthy, I’ve met some amazing people, and am happy as a clam.

This past Sunday was the Lotus Lantern Festival in Insadong. Insadong and the surrounding area of Jongno is what I’d call the cultural mecca of Seoul. Alongside skyscrapers are beautiful old Buddhist temples and shrines, which were decorated with beautiful lanterns during the weeks leading to the festival. The festival is held in honor of Buddha’s Birthday every year.

Seeking shade underneath countless paper lanterns. If you look closely enough, you can see the paper prayers hung from the bottom for the worshipper’s ancestors and family.

photos courtesy:B O’rourke

Us girls posing for a pic with the lanterns we made ourselves–gotta love crafting!

Temple. Yes, we actually went in and sat in awe. I plan to go visit for Sunday services simply for the peace I felt here.

 

The sheer bliss of joining in the Lotus Lantern Parade~TK and I danced to the amazing music alongside the parade-ers. It was pure bliss.

Lantern collecting and dancing to the beats of Korean marching bands.

photos courtesy: B. O’Rourke and A. Brady (Thanks!)

 

Lotus Lantern Festival!


Lantern collecting and dancing to the beats of Korean marching bands.
photos courtesy: B. O’Rourke (Thanks Brendan!) 🙂

Okay, I officially am having a wonderful time here in Seoul!
The weather is now sundress worthy, I’ve met some amazing people, and am happy as a clam.
This past Sunday was the Lotus Lantern Festival in Insadong. Insadong and the surrounding area of Jongno is what I’d call the cultural mecca of Seoul. Alongside skyscrapers are beautiful old Buddhist temples and shrines, which were decorated with beautiful lanterns during the weeks leading to the festival. The festival is held in honor of Buddha’s Birthday every year.




Seeking shade underneath countless paper lanterns. If you look closely enough, you can see the paper prayers hung from the bottom for the worshipper’s ancestors and family.
photos courtesy:B O’rourke

Us girls posing for a pic with the lanterns we made ourselves. I love crafts.

Temple. Yes, we actually went in and sat in awe. I plan to go visit for Sunday services simply for the peace I felt here.

The sheer bliss of joining in the Lotus Lantern Parade~we danced to the amazing music alongside the parade-ers. It was pure bliss.
photos courtesy:A. Brady (Thanks Amanda!)


~…April Showers bring May Flowers…~

It’s not that my life sucked. Because actually, things looked pretty good. For most people, my life would have been satisfying. But, I’ve never really been like most people! Whatever that means.
 
My job seemed perfect but in hindsight, it wasn’t a good fit. It was 10 minutes down the road, I could walk my dog down the beach before AND after work, but I was sitting all day long and dealing with people in recovery from alcohol and drugs. I wanted to help them, I really did, but I think it was just too painful after having family experience with addiction. At first I thought I could handle it, maybe it would be good for me to come to terms with my own past and make sense of what happened to the addicted in my family. But after nearly a year, I realized that it was just too close to home…my body constantly ached, my neck hurt, and towards the end my skin even started going bonkers. Everything just didn’t feel right. After a while, it just felt like I lost my smile.
 
And living with my parents was easy, but just a little too easy after 5 years living on my own in San Diego and Santa Monica. My family is amazing~my Mom and I are like sisters, taking beach walks, sharing clothes and make-up, swapping diet advice, going out for shopping, lunch, and wine tastings. Seeing Daddy Clem, AKA D2 the sequel (stepdad) roll by on his Heelies shoes or his skateboard on Saturday morning always made for good fun entertainment; he always has new facts for me to learn, and is absolutely game for philosophical, introspective conversation as well as shopping, dining, and movie fun. One of my favorite memories before we left was going to see Avatar in 3D and also going to his company’s Xmas party where we had wine, ate yummy food, and danced the night away. But, you just aren’t meant to come back to the nest after you fly away. Maybe for a long weekend (or a week or a month, you know, for some R &R)…:)
But the USA economy being what it was in 2008…well, it didn’t leave a lot of options. And I don’t think I was quite ready to make the leap from the crazy modeling and acting industry to Korean english teaching. I needed to come home, take a break–I needed a reality check.
 
I toyed with the idea of going back to school or finding another job in California. But ever since travelling Europe as a teen, the idea of going abroad again constantly stuck in the back of my mind.
 
I toyed with the idea of yoga teacher training. I was practicing Bikram 5 days a week, so why not? But something kept stopping me from signing up.
 
I was accepted to grad school TWICE within the months before coming to Korea.
Each time, it didn’t feel right. I made excuses not to go.
 
Finally, on New Years’ Day 2010, I found my travel journal from Summer in Europe.
 
I read through it, didn’t even sit down. I opened up plastic ziploc baggies stuffed away in pockets of the journal, where bits of Iberian island sand and delicate seashells from that magic summer slipped through my fingers.
 
That very day, I made my favorite green tea. On the tea’s string, there was a saying, “Travel Light, Live Light, Spread the Light, Be the Light”.
 
That made up my mind. Quit the job and travel. It felt right. I knew it was what I had to do.
 
A few days later I had interviews for jobs abroad lined up. A month and a half later, I was on a plane to the other side of the f****in world.
 
Kinda cool.
 
BUT….I got here and hated it.
 
Italic
I rejected the Korean culture.
 
It was too friggin cold.
 
I hated the party scene (well, that’s just me anyhow, I like to have a drink and dance once in a while, but part of me is secretly a 40 year old introvert who likes to read, go on cultural daytrips, do yoga, travel plan, work on my budget, organize, and be quiet).
 
I got really sick and nearly booked a flight home…(Mom, if you’re reading this, thanks for talking me out of that one…)
 
I even refused to even try to learn to read Hangul/Korean writing (Even though it is so easy and helpful in getting around the city and country…ya NOW i know this…)
 
The only thing that seemed good was the food.
And we all know I’m a foodie. A healthy foody albeit.
So I think that’s part of what kept me hanging on. Plus, food brings people together.
 
 
I am the type that can be alone for days, no problemo. I can also be extremely outgoing and even start the party (this is mostly on tropical islands and during the summer…ya…winter-hermit).
But here, I’m finding that we seek each other out.
 
We explore, we dine, we go home and be quiet, we get together for bike rides and rooftop bbq’s.
 
We hang by the Han River and drink Korean rice wine, too.
 
Us quieter, sometimes introverted, over-analytical, sometimes loner. independent types, well this makes us learn to be flexible and more importantly I think, it teaches us that even the more independent among us, well we need connection, too. We all need each other.