Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lunar New Year in Seoul

The lunar new year is a huge festival day throughout much of Asia, especially in Korea, China and Vietnam. This year it fell on January 26 and we went to Seoul to take advantage of the four-day weekend. It was great to get out of our very rural environment and spend some time in the city. Above is a picture of us at Changdeokgung Palace. It was built in 1405 as a royal villa, but became the official royal residence when the Japanese invaded Korea and burned down the main palace in 1592.

For the past several months, Stephen has been tutoring some students online. We met two of them in Seoul and toured the palace grounds together. We went with an English tour but lingered behind the group and had more fun exploring on our own. This is Adrienne posing with Sun Ryun to her left and Jeong Yi to her right. Sun was really interested in the temple because she majored in Korean history.

Jeong Yi has been Stephen's student for about six months, but this was the first time they met in person. Since they had been talking through Skype for so long, they were already the best of friends. V is for Victory!

A mural at Inwangsa temple depicting the birth of the Buddha. According to legend, when the Buddha was born he took seven steps, raised his hand and pointed to the sky, saying: "I am chief of the world, eldest am I in the world, foremost am I in the world. This is the last birth. There is now no more coming to be." A lotus flower bloomed under each footstep.

Above Inwangsa temple, stepped paths lead up the side of a mountain to a number of famous rock formations and other sacred spots. Some of the rocks are thought to resemble monks in meditation.
Inwangsa temple is home to a mix of Buddhism and indigenous Shamanism. Walking up, we passed several people who were performing rituals and libations to nature spirits. This woman is in the middle of a series of bows in front of one of the sacred rock formations. Also a favorite spot for pigeons to hold ceremonial gatherings.

An indoor-outdoor fruit market in the typical Korean style. Across the street from this market, we had a delicious multi-course sushi dinner featuring many Korean side dishes: a spinach pancake, spicy soup, rice bowl with seaweed and fish roe, oysters, shrimp, acorn jelly cubes, corn and crab salad, edamame... a special New Year's feast.

A happy Buddha statue outside of Chogye-sa, the main temple for the Chogye sect of Buddhism in Seoul. The three circles inside a circle on the pedestal symbolize the "three jewels" of Buddhism: the Buddha, the dharma (teachings), and the sangha (community).

Friday, January 9, 2009

Skiing and School

From December 29 - January 17, Stephen and Adrienne are teaching at an English winter camp at the school they've been staying at for the past month. In Korea, students have two months of vacation from school every year, one month in the winter and one month in the summer. During this time, many Korean students attend private specialty schools such as the one where we teach, called hagwons. The picture above is from the opening day assembly.

MJ, a fellow teacher and Vice President of the school, welcoming a student. MJ is a gregarious fellow, big and loud, prone to joking and singing Evangelical worship songs.

Two students from the highest-level class. Stephen teaches them writing and speaking, and Adrienne teaches them reading.

Three cute students from Adrienne's level two class.

Stephen on the first day of school.

No school is complete without a morose, Eeyore type.

Stephen lent his camera to a student who expressed interest in photography and she snapped this pic.

Adrienne with Karam and Dong Kwon, two of the level four students, on a school ski trip on Thurday.

We had a great time skiing - while Adrienne skied with control and ease, Stephen opted for out-of-control snowboarding. Only one innocent bystander was eliminated by his wrecklessness. By the time Adrienne caught up, Stephen, ice in his beard, a 10-foot board-skid behind him, was one member of a dazed pile including himself and another boy.