Sunday, May 25, 2008

Buddha's Birthday (May 12)

May is a great month for holidays in Korea. May 5 is Children's Day and Buddha's Birthday (a huge celebration here like Christmas in America in that we saw decorations prior to it starting like mid-March) is celebrated according to the lunar calendar and so it varies, but this year was on May 12. Both the 5th and the 12th were Mondays, so I had two three day weekends this month, which has kept my social life busy (and apparently made me broke as I discovered in my bank account yesterday). Hence, the lack of blogging. But I'm in need of some rest now (and financially, it's pretty much required) so I should be more regular.

The first three day weekend, Kelly, Sarah, and I headed up to Seoul for the Lantern Festival in honor of Buddha's Birthday (yes, the celebration was held on the Children's Day weekend, which confused me for a bit, but thankfully this was cleared up). The festival itself featured performers and information stands about aspects of Buddhist culture--everything from a company that makes meat substitutes for vegetarians specific to Korean cuisine to a meditation practice tent led by an American female Buddhist monk who has lived, studied, and taught in her Korean monastery for 10 years.

We saw the Asian Snuffleupagus!


The street festival stretched all the way down to Jogyesa, a small temple in downtown Seoul that was completely covered with lanterns. Most of them were the traditional circular, brightly colored lanterns I've seen in temples all over Korea. Over the main courtyard, they were arranged to look like a lotus flower, which was particularly beautiful at night after the parade.

Favorite picture I took all day at Jogyesa.


Main courtyard lanterns at night.


We had dinner at a traditional Korean restaurant in Insadong (the traditional market area I went to with Se Jin in February), and then met up with Amanda and Good Man for ice cream at McDonald's and viewing the evening parade.

Lounging Bodhisattva lit float.


나비 게등들. Butterfly Lanterns.


The parade was beautiful. Mostly it was different groups carrying different styles and shapes of lanterns. There were also some performers and a few larger floats on cars or other platforms. Since it was raining (a little), nighttime in a city (with the associated light pollution from nearby shops), and crowded, getting good pictures was difficult. I sorted through over 600 I took all day and put the best 50 of them in the album below.

Buddha's Birthday/Lantern Festival at Jogyesa


Yes, I live in Asia. Just in case I needed the reminder.

A fantastic day.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Saying Hello

When I lived in America, everyday people I didn't know would smile and say hello to me. I did the same. Sometimes it wasn't a hello, sometimes it was just a quick nod or wave or (when I lived in more rural areas) a tip of the hat. A cursory acknowledgement of our shared humanity--a recognition of personhood and general friendly goodwill. A greeting. Not an invitation to talk, but pleasant, comfortable, and familiar.

In Korea, everyday people also say, "Hello!" to me (yes, notice it's in quotes with an exclamation point this time). But here, it's jarring. It's a foreign language for the locals. It's often shouted at me from a block and a half away or accompanied by a fit of giggles and mutters in Korean about the "foreigner" until one of the middle school children decides she is "brave" enough to say it. Sometimes it's accompanied by other English words... "How are you?" "Beautiful!" and "Hey yo man!" seem to be popular choices. If I respond, they laugh or gape--sometimes they grab my hand and shake it vigorously saying "Nice to meet you!" without any invitation to do such or intention to get to know me. If I don't respond, they also laugh or gape. I generally get the best responses if I reply in Korean. But it grates.

Because here "Hello!" is not comfortable or polite. It's rarely accompanied by a warm smile (although if it is, I always try to respond as warmly as I can, even if I feel like shit). It dehumanizes where such a friendly greeting should radiate humanity. It is a label. It marks me foreign. As much as my wild hair and height and pale skin... It's a shout. Sometimes it sounds like a curse word.

Waking up this morning, I realized how much I miss the friendliness of Americans. There are lots of bad things to be said about my home country and its citizens (and certainly I've said and believe most of them), but there is a certain genuine openness and amiable atmosphere in most places that aren't downtown Manhattan I find comforting.

On Friday, a friend of a friend I met for the first time hugged me in greeting. On Saturday a white guy walking his dog smiled at me when I passed him.

***

Realization (from a few days ago): I point out the obvious and over explain things. I think this is part of my American-ness. Americans believe in being genuine above all else--to be called a hypocrite is one of the worst insults you can bestow. It seems to get worse when I am most homesick.

And I wonder (remembering now the curious, unfriendly glares I got when I was with my sister) that if I wasn't white, would I still feel like this...?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Best Week. 신기했어요...

I am terribly sorry for keeping you all in the dark, but I have been crazy busy this last week, but it has been AMAZING!!!

First of all, I got my black belt Friday. It has my name on it. 아싸!



The weekend before last, I went to Busan with William and Tristan. He details the events in his blog, so if you wish to know what happened, I won't repeat it here. I had a fantastic, relaxing time, but I was sunburned very badly on my legs. I had to miss taekwondo Tuesday and Wednesday last week. Not as bad as the sun poisoning I got at Martha's Vineyard a few years ago, but bad.

Me, at the beach, pre-burn (photo courtesy William)


I've been doing a bunch of swing dancing. Our club has decided to meet on Tuesday nights for the summer and do some dancing in a park. The first night got rained out, so we ended up at a club nearby. Fun, but I'm looking forward to this week and some outdoor swinging! Then, Saturday night was a big party at the other Daegu swing club, DNA, so a bunch of the people I'd met from Busan and Seoul and other places came out. It was a lot of fun. I had the best dance of my life with a silly man nicknamed Dungi to Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love."

Friday night, I pulled a typical Diana boneheaded move and lost my wallet on the subway. Now, if I'd been in the US, I would just have figured I'd never see it again and begun taking steps to minimize the damage, but Korea is a much less crime-oriented country. So I ran around Singi station trying to find it. No luck.

The English-speaking station manager was very kind as he took the report and then Gwen (wonderful woman that she is) loaned me some money, but meanwhile a man had found my wallet and found Samson's business card inside and called him. I got his number to make arrangements to meet and get my wallet back (thank god I learned some Korean, right???) and so it all worked out alright in the end.

Saturday morning I played hooky from Korean class and went hiking at Apsan with Min Gi, a new friend I met about a month ago.

The weather was fantastic, but as you can see behind Min Gi, not conducive to picture taking.


Obscured Daegu, from the mountain.


Fading blooms.


Funny thing was, after hiking, Min Gi agreed to come to swing dance with me (haha... I'm recruiting!), so in between we went to meet the guy who found my wallet at Singi station (신기역), and it turned out to be a friend of Min Gi's! That's when I learned the word 신기하다, which literally translated means to be wondrous or magical, but is used to express surprise at strange coincidences like this one. I love this language...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Uncertainty

Today I have more questions than answers, but I'm happy and hopeful about it.

Lots of stuff has been happening I want to blog about--training in taekwondo, a trip to Seoul with pretty pictures, visiting my Korean family the Kwons, a renewed interest and excitement for studying Korean, figuring out (finally) how to do a basic Lindy circle halfway decently--but I'm not going to yet.

I have been holding myself back from blogging because many things about my life are uncertain and open to change in relatively dramatic ways (what I will do after my contract ends? does my dating life have a chance of success in this country? when will I know the results of my black belt test?). This uncertainty makes me uncomfortable with putting anything permanent down, such as publishing it in a blog.

This has happened before and I always react in the same way. I worry constantly. I make new life plans every ten minutes (I'm not kidding--detailed, well planned out life goals that I completely revise to a brand new one moments later) because I feel better with a plan, even if I know it's going to change. I spend lots of time doing things that don't matter and avoiding the things that need to get done--I end up with perfectly organized earring drawers and no clean dishes.

In honor of the worrying about things that matter the least first, let's talk taekwondo. I'm freaking out about the results from my black belt test. Everybody is very reassuring and kind (and let me be clear that I do appreciate your kind words of support), but it will be the most humiliating thing I have experienced in a long time if I don't pass. That scares the crap out of me. The weird thing is, I think I'm due for karmic failure. Things have been going well lately. Perhaps too well. Usually around this time something bad has happened relationship wise (the last bad thing was more than a year and a half ago), but since I'm not in a relationship, the world has to find some other way to smack down my growing self esteem and this seems like an all too tempting opportunity for fate. (Yes, in my own head, I do live in a post-modern black comedy).

More than that, though, I don't want to let people down. My friends and family back home who have cheered me on for the last eight months; my friends here who cheered me on as I went home early the night before, who showed up to watch and take pictures, who texted me that morning to wish me luck, or who took me out to my favorite wine bar and a romantic comedy after the whole mess was over; my studio--Sa Beom Nim, his family and students; and myself. I'd pull out some line right now about how the journey itself has been enough of an achievement and blah blah blah and that's true... I don't think Sa Beom Nim is going to stop teaching me the Koryeo form (the one for second degree belt testing) just because I "failed" this round and I don't think I'll quit or anything that dramatic because it's too much fun... but it would really be a huge blow to my self confidence that's been growing by participating in such a challenging sport.

Today Sa Beom Nim said he'd text me when he got the results. That made me feel a little better. (As for the romantic and job fronts... well maybe I'm not going to be as brave in this post as I wanted to be... better just to publish this one and save more for later since it's been more than a week.)

Life, to be continued...

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