Sunday, January 29, 2006

In the Grotto

All right, let me just bottom line it for you right now: this weekend is the lunar new year. It is an extremely big deal holiday here in Korea. We have a three-day weekend so I do not have to work on Monday. This is because the lunar new year happens to fall on a weekend this time around, but we would have three weekdays off too (in fact, we English teachers are all a little bummed we got the short end of the stick with the holiday this year). I received presents from work, and presents from a couple of my students. (Towels, socks, a rather nice umbrella...) On Friday we had kite-flying in the park for pre-school and the kids wore the traditional Korean hanbok costume. There was a mass exodus of traffic from Daegu Friday night as people headed to their families, and the downtown areas were not nearly as packed with people as usual. I traveled to Gyeongju today and many restaurants were closed there and its streets eerily empty as well.

All this is to say that in the U.S. this holiday is called Chinese New Year, but clearly it's not just for China anymore!

I tried to explain that to one of the (cool, reasonably fluent in English) KTs at my school on Friday, that the misconception in the U.S.A. is Chinese New Year but she didn't seem to get it. She was sort of confused: "But why, Linda, would you just call it Chinese New Year?" I'm like, exactly! That's my point! I think it's fascinating.

I do so like to do Buddhist things and of late I especially like to mark significant occasions with visits to one Buddha or another. Today Robin and I rode the bus to Gyeongju and then went up the mountain from outlying Bulguksa temple to the Seokguram Grotto. Seokguram was built in 851 A.D. They carried tons of granite up a steep mountainside. I myself rode up this mountainside in a bus, an overwhelming experience in itself. The Buddha statue is a designated UNESCO World Cultural Heritage item. It was beautiful and peaceful. When I stand contemplating the Buddha I do feel what I can only describe as a stirring calm in my soul. It's rather amazing, actually.

After you walk out of the little grotto, you go down some steps along which lie curved roof tiles where people from around the world have written messages that ask for blessings or peace. There were messages in Korean, English, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Dutch, Swedish, German, French, etc., and piles of tiles next to the path that didn't fit on display. It was amazing to behold. There were messages by people from Romania, Malaysia, Thailand, Azerbaijan, Argentina, Ireland, Ghana...I was particularly struck by some of them, even ones whose languages I couldn't read.

*One said, "Angels on earth, please keep family and friends safe" from a Canadian. I thought that was a nice notion, angels on earth. It sort of fit with the beautiful mood of the place on this mountain overlooking ravine, valley, trees, and on out to the distant East Sea.

*One said, "Kyrgyzstan & Japan" with a heart, and a message in Korean, Japanese, and what was presumably Kyrgyz.

*One was from Ngaing wongchhu sherpa chopulung from Nepal.

*One said, "Peace on Earth, blessings to the people of South Korea" from Tanzania.

*I rather liked "Je souhaite que de l'amour naisse de l'union du soleil de notre coeur et de la lune de notre esprit ... Boudhiste, chretien, juif, musulman, tous la meme foi. Ayons confiance en la vie."

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