Maehwa Flower Festival and Seonam Temple Stay

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March 22nd 2013
Published: March 31st 2013
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22nd Mar: Left work early and headed over to Jukjeon via a taxi and a subway to meet up with the bus. I managed to find the stop on the highway really easily thanks to the great instructions I had been given. The bus was a bit late and I was picked up around half ten. I got settled in on the bius and had a good natter to Andi.

23rd Mar: vWe arrived in Jeonju around 12:30. The bus dropped us off and we walked over to the jjimjilbang. Bless them having about 40 foreigners descend on them, bet they didn't know what had hit them. It was only 7,000 won to enter the jjimjilbang. We got given our towels and outfits and headed up to the female changing and bathing area. Some people just put the clothes on and went downstairs to sleep. However myself and a few others had showers and them cilled out in the baths for a bit. It was nice to have a bit of time to unwind and relax, after another mad week at work.

After a while I headed downstairs to the sleeping area. It was the first time I had stayed overnight in a jjimjilbang. We grabbed some mats and found some space on the floor. It was pretty busy, and there wasn't a lot of space left on the floor. Took my lenses out and tried to sleep. A bloke came over with a blanket for me, Andi had went in search of some blankets, so was quite puzzled when she came back empty handed and I had one wrapped around me. I offered it to her as the room was really hot and a blanket wasn't really necessary. I think I was given it because my t-shirt was riding up exposing the tattoo on my back.

I managed to get a bit of sleep. However it wasn't great, as there were a few snorers in the room. I must buy some earplugs, I have been meaning to for months. Also one bloke put the shits up the whole room by randomly screaming, think he must of been aving a nightmare. Also two adjummas decided tyo have a full blown conversation with no consideration for everyone else at 4 am. Cheers for that!

Got up not long after seven and went back upstairs to get changed and put the old slap on. We all met outside the jjimjilbang at 8 am, and went for some breakfast. We had Kongnamulguk aka beansprout soup. I am not a big fan of Korean beansprouts, they taste weird, not like the ones from home, which I can only eat raw, hate then cooked. However the soup was alright, it had a bit of flavour and (what I was praying for) an egg to pop in it. We got loads of gim (seaweed), too. Plus it was cheap only 5,000 won and the restaurant was pretty nice.

Then we had a bit of a walk around Jeonju. It's a pretty place. We were at the hanok village, so all the houses and shops were built in the traditional style. Even the Paris Baguette (a bakery chain) looked classy. The walk was really nice and it left me wanting to come back to Jeonju in te future, so I could have a proper explore.

Back on the bus we drove south for about two hours until we reached the Maehwa village near Gwangyang. The traffic to get to the village was really bad, as it the peak time for the flowers. So we ended up walking for a few kilometres. The walk was quite pretty, but it meant we only had about an hour at the festival. We walked up the mountain, we didn't get all the way to the top as we ran out of time. But the mountain village was really pretty as it is covered in maehwa trees and all the flowers were in bloom. I think we must of took about a million photos. It was just so pretty. We also drank a lovely cooling coconut juice, from the coconut on the way up. We had wished we could of opened them up to get the insides out.

Back on the bus I discovered that I had been sunburnt. It's only March! But my pasty skin isn't used to the sun. The traffic was really bad leaving the village, so we were stuck in traffic and it took ages to get to the temple. We watched a really crappy movie, to break up the boredom of the journey. However we missed about the last 5 minutes or so.

We arrived at the temple around 3-3:30. The bus dropped us at the car park and it was a good ten minute walk up to the temple. The temple os called Seonamsa. Seonam means heavenly rock, and is derived from the legend that a heavenly being played the game Go, near here. Seonamsa is situated in Mount Jogyesan Provincial Park. We took a few photos of the temple and then the monk, who would be in charge of us, came and showed us to our sleeping quarters. It's split, so men were on one side of the temple, and us women on the other. there was a mix of one big room for twenty and smaller rooms for three or four on the women's side. We managed to get in a four person room. Then we went and got our temple clothes and picked some shoes out of a closet. I had done a temple stay a few years ago, The outfts were different here, as we were given a waistcoat istead of a full on top, and it was a nice touch to be given shoes, although they were too small and hurt my feet.

After getting sorted we met up with the monk and he showed us around the temple and some of the grounds. The temple was really beautiful. It was built over one thousad years ago. When the Japanese invaded in 16th century a lot of the building were destroyed, but they have and are continuing to restore the temple. He took us out to some fields behind the temple. There is a smallish plot of green tea there. The green tea was brought over from China, and is very expensive. It's a few hundred dollars for less than 100 grams. The monk told us a lot of stuff, however a lot of it was lost in translation. Our guide wasn't really up on Buddhist terminology. A Chinese guy on the tour helped out, as he was a Buddhist, so knew a lot about the religion, and was pretty fluent in English and Korean.

Five thirty was tea time (dinner). We met in the courtyard after having about ten minutes of freee time. The monk had asked us to meet and go together as a group to dinner. The dining hall was really nice. It was in the traditional style, with low tables that you sat around on the floor. So much nicer than the previous temple I had been to where the diing room was more like a cafeteria. Because there was so many of us, it took us ages to get our dinner. However it was well worth the wait. The food was amazing (a lot better than the other temple stay). For diner we had loads of different stuff, rice, curry sauce with vegetables, kimchi, aubergine, beansprout soup, cold mashed potato mixed with chopped red and green peppers. We were allowed to go back for more. Sice I hadn't eaten a proper meal since breakfast at around 8:30, I was starving and got a good helping for seconds, too.

With a lovely full belly I waddled over to watch the monks beating the drums and ringing the bells at the entrance to the temple. It was good to watch, if a little loud. I wish I kew the sigificance of this ceremony. Then it was over to the main hall opposite the main temple, where the big buddha lives. A monk taught us how to bow properly. I thought I may of felt a bit sick after my big dinner, but I was fine.

Then we went back to the dining hall to have tea time with a different monk. All the tavbles were lined up on either side of the room. We sat in groups of five on each table. I was with an Englishlad, an American bloke, and an older Korean couple. It was ice to talk to the older Korean couple, as it seems like quite a few Koreans do temple stays. However we did't get to chat for long, as they were shipped off to a different room for the Koreas to be together, so our big group had the room to ourselves. We went through the process of waming the pot and the tea cups and then brewing the tea. We were drinknig the expensive green tea that it is grow in the temple grounds. The tea was really tasty. It's a shame the cups were so small, as I could of drank that stuff by the gallon. We got to ask the monk questios, however a lot of the aswers were lost in translation, and I didn't really feel like some of the questions asked were really answered.

We left the dining hall aroud 8:30. Lights out were due at nine, as that's what time the moks go to bed. I was happy about that as I was completely shattered. I had been struggling to keep my eyes open during the tea ceremony. After spreading the bedding out on the floor, washing my face ad brushing my teeth in the cold water that was pumped outside, I was ready to go to sleep not long after nine. I was slightly dreading the early start in the morning.

24th Mar: My alarm went off at 3:10. Ouch! I was already awake though, as the other girls' alarms went off at 3:00. I had a lush moment when I was sleeping ad woke up during the night. I checked the time on my phone, thinking it would be about half two and we would have to get up soon. But it was only 11, four more hours of sleep. It's the simple things in life that please me. A quick brush of the teeth and then we went over to the room, where we had been yesterday. It was freezing! Also me and Andi saw a massive spider in the room. The monks started sying their prays at about 3:40. There was lots of chanting and beating of the little wooden drum thing they have. We did quite a bit of bowing. I'm in awe of the monks. They get up everyday (I assume) to pray at 3:40 come hail or shine. It must be awful in the winter when it's minus 15 and snowing. Yet they just get on and do it. I wish I could be as dedicated to something as they are to Buddha.

By the time they had finished praying I was absolutely frozen. We then sat and the monk from yesterday talked about meditation to us. Some myths I had about it were dispelled. Then we did a ten minute meditation session. The monks do 50 minutes in the morning, but it was too cold for us softies. The monk was really nice ad said if we were too cold we could leave at any time, if the cold was unbearable. However I think pretty much everybody stayed. Then it was back to bed for a little nap. It was so nice to get back into the warm room and to get under the blankets. It certaily makes you appreciate the small things in life.

At 6:30 we headed to the dining room to participate in the traditional breakfast ceremony. We sat in four long lines on the floor. The monk sat at one end of the room. We then had to stand up line by line and go and get our dishes and tableware from a monk, who was handing them out. The monk showed us how to set the bowls and the linens out correctly. A person from the end of the line came poured some water into our biggest bowl. We had to shake the bowl gently from side to side to indicate we had enough. Then we rinsed the other bowls with the water, leaving it in one bowl and pooping our cutlery in to it. The next person got up and served us our rice. They put one scoop into our bowls and then came back around and we could add more or get rid of some rice if we wished. The next person came round with the soup. We had to put our bowl right under the ladel, so that not a drop was wasted. Lastly there was a tray table, which someone moved from person to person, and we could help ourselves to kimchi, kim, random vegetable, and radish. The whole process recreates the olden times, when monks used to go from house to house to get food. I had seen the giving alms to the monks in Luang Prabang, which is now a tourist event. But in Phonsavan I witnessed the monks going from house to house at sunrise, receiving alms more naturally, without the tourist hordes. The whole process was very time consuming, and you can understand why the monks only do this ceremony for breakfast now, in stead of all meals. We ate in silence as you are supposed to, and you were not allowed to clean up until everyone had finished. The pressure! I am a slow eater at times, so while some people had finished after about 5 seconds I was still going strong, and I had tried to not take too much food. Andi felt the pressure too, when we talking about it afterwards. So after trying to shovel the food in as quick as possible, we finally finished. We cleaned our bowls using the radish, which we hadn't been allowed to eat earlier, and the water we had reserved from earlier, too. Then we had to eat the radish and drink the water. Nothing is wasted in Buddhism, which I like. Then we sorted out our bowls, restacked them, and tied them up with the linens. The monk told us that the kitchen staff would wash our bowls properly as we were tourists. The monk told us that the monks try to finish eating at the same time. Some older monks who eat slower take less food than the younger, faster eaters. I understand this, but why can't the younger monks eat slower to accomodate the older monks.

After breakfast it was warm enough to wash my face outside from the pump. No way I was doing that in the freezing cold at 3 am. Then we all met up and went on a lovely walk through the temple grounds and the national park, in which the temple is housed. The area is really pretty and peaceful. back at the temple most of us indulged in ice creams from the gift shop. orean ice cream is pretty crappy, but it was a nice treat. We had a little bit of free time and then we made our prayer beads. That was nice and the beads smell gorgeous, like a herbal forest. I'm sitting sniffing them now as I write this. Then we did our 108 prostrations to Buddha. It was hard work, but not as hard as I imagined. They played a dvd in English, so we understood what each prostration was for, and one of the monks tapped his drum thing to signal we had to bow. I was a bit red in the face after I had finished, I'm glad that I managed to do them all. However my body was aching the next day.

Lunch was served at 11:30. Pretty early, but I suppose we had been up since 3 ish, and had breakfast really early. The lunch was nice, but not as nice as dinner the previous evening. There were also loads of random Koreans that turned up for lunch. i wonder if they pay for it, or if they get it for free. I meant to find out, but forgot to ask. We headed back to our rooms, changed out of our monk clothes, cleaned our shoes and hung our bedding out to air on the lines. All packed up we trooped down to the bus.

The bus journey did not go smoothly, with our bus driver having a massive temper tantrum, yelling at us all to get of fthe bus, yeah right mate like we are going to do that, so you can drive off and leave us. All this was happening on a random busy road. The bus driver got off for a smoke and a sulk, and then after the trip leader and the bus driver spoke to his gaffer we resumed our journey. The explanation for this outburst given in English, was apparantly very different to what was really said in Korean. This put us a bit off schedule, so when we got to the banmboo forest we only had an hour there. The forest was nice and I'm glad it was included on the trip, as I wouldn't go out of my way to go there. We spent the hour walking around and had my second ice crea mof the day. It was bamboo flavoured, it was really nice.

Thankfully the bus was still waiting for us, we all thought the driver might of buggered off leaving us stranded. We drove for about ten minutes to the tree lined road. It was okay, just a pathway lined with trees. There was some construction work going on, on one side so that blighted it a bit. Also as it's just coming in to spring all the trees were still dead. In winter with snow, or atumn with the changing leaves, I bet the place would look beautiful. We spent about half an hour wandering there. On the bus the journey back to Seoul was long and boring. Ended up back just after 8 pm.

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