This is all about my EPIK teaching adventures in Korea!
About half way through our contract was the perfect time to have a visit from the one and only… MA-KEU! My dad made the 14 hour flight to the other side of the world to join Scott and I for 10 days. It came and went SO fast, but we were still able to fit in some pretty awesome adventures, (Although- Dad, if you’re reading this, we barely touched the tip of the iceberg adventure wise so you should probably come back and we’ll go at it again).
The first weekend he arrived, we ventured off to Busan to visit the monks at Beomeosa Temple Stay. I can’t imagine why he was so tired, it’s not like I pulled him off the plane and headed straight to Busan…. ok, so that’s exactly what happened. But sleep is for infants… and also me after a week of hell at school. After 3 buses we finally got off halfway up the mountain and hiked to the monastery. We were given our clothes to change into and began the welcome ceremony, followed by a tour of the grounds. At the welcome ceremony everyone had a chance to introduce themselves. There were maybe 14 Korean guests and 10 English speaking guests. I introduced myself and explained I was here with my dad because he had come to visit me; this was the start of his trip. The monk said some things in Korean, and the translator turns to me and asks in a sincere tone, “He wants to know… are you single?”. Immediately confusion set in along with the inevitable fuchsia coloured face I get when I’m embarrassed. I giggled a little and tried to reply in a calm voice void of any laughter, “No…uh… why?” Some more Korean talking before she says, “I’m sorry, I meant to say are you the single sibling”. Ok, now I get it… but your ‘sorry’ doesn’t fix my clown face.
Before coming to the temple, I was thinking about how nice it will be to spend some quality time with my dad while relaxing; listening to monks singing, the birds chirping and feeling the fresh mountain air. Living as a monk for those two days were anything but relaxing. Even strenuous. After bowing countless times during the ceremonies that day, and night, we were shown a blanket on the floor with wooden beads. We would be making a necklace (prayer beads). But this isn’t any ordinary necklace; it’s a necklace that is made sweatshop style. Starting in a standing position, you bow half way, then bow all the way to the floor with your hands folded over one another and your head touching your hands. Then lift your head and hands enough to string a bead onto the necklace. ONE bead… no cheating… DAD! The all the way back up to a standing position. OK… that’s 1. For a total of 108 times. It was amusing and novel until about the 20th one. Then I wanted to cry. And so did dad. 108 is a number from Buddism. It’s called baekpal bae (백팔배). The six human sensory organs produce 18 judgments and 18 feelings about all things in the world. Combined, these 36 circumstances occur in the past, present, and future, making the total 108. When monks bow 108 times, they are cleansing their minds of these judgements. This is a ritual done at least once a day.
We survived the bows and the cafeteria style dinner of kimchi, rice, fruit salad and other mystery foods, and sleeping on thin mats. The mandatory wake up time was 5am, but we were given a choice if we’d like to wake up for the monks ceremony at 3am. I think our brains were working at the same wave length when we quickly decided “hell no”! But apparently not everyone was on the same page as us. We were the only people not waking up early. Actually, we did wake up early because everyone around us were elephants, and dad had the monks banging on the gong right beside the men’s cabin. Womp womp. That morning we meditated in the temple, facing the mountain backdrop out the open doors. It was gorgeous- and finally relaxing. But it was brief. We spent the next 3 1/2 hours hiking Geumjeongsan (the mountain which the temple was on). It was an amazing view from the top; of Busan, other mountains and a long wall stretching across the bottom of the hills.
The week that followed, I worked 8:40-4:40 while dad took a much needed rest during the afternoons, and venturing out at night. We went to Samsan (downtown), Seongnam (for shopping, bamboo forest and a stroll by the river) and to Ilsan Beach, where we bought fireworks at the dollar store and lit them off on the beach with beers in hand. Gotta love Korean laws (or lack of). Dad got to try out Shabu Shabu with my co-teachers one night, Beef soup (which was originally supposed to be an amazing rib stew, but I screwed up my Korean and got us mushroom soup with beef chunks in it instead), Korean BBQ with samgyupsal (pork slices) and duck, kimbap and a few others I’m forgetting.
Thursday dad came to class with me. He came to see my Grade4’s, 5’s and 6’s. Each class we did kind of an interview. I talked about his age, height, and all that juicy info. I think the biggest question they had was “where is your hair?” and also asking about his mustache. In Korean culture, not many people are bald or have facial hair, so both of these were such a mystery to the kids. To test his strength he even lifted me up with one arm. What a show-off! The kids were super impressed. The kids also got the chance to win Canadian flag pencils if they got a quiz question correct. The kids are still showing me their pencils and using them proudly in class. After class, all the kids surrounded him yelling “sign! sign!” holding up pieces of paper from their notebooks or anything they could find. It was super cute.