After four years, the Korean indie band Every Single Day has released their 6th full length album titled Nothing Of It. Not that the three-piece band hasn’t been busy though. Over the past four years they’ve… More
As luck would have it, I ended up at Coex 45 minutes early for a dinner date this week and decided it was an opportune time to make my way across the street to enjoy the night views of Bongeunsa Temple (봉은사). The popular temple sits in the ritzy Gangnam-gu area and tourists from near and far stop by as it’s an easy temple to find while out and about. While most of Korea’s Buddhist temples are set up in mountains entailing at least a short walk or hike into a forest, Bongeunsa is one of a few temples in Seoul that sprawls over an expanse that sits just beyond a major thoroughfare, though of course it wasn’t planned to be that way. While I would direct tourists to take the time to hike up to enjoy the zen of a temple in the nearby mountains, if short on time, Bongeunsa is a fair stop to make.
Though often packed with people walking this way and that on the weekends, I found the temple virtually devoid of people at 6:30pm on a Saturday. Eerie in the dark with the temple buildings lit from the inside, I felt as though I was trespassing until a nearby guard passed and I confirmed it was definitely okay that I meander around and enjoy the serene nature of the temple made even more serene and calming by the drums and percussion sounds beaten by the monks at 6:40pm to start evening prayers. (If you want to catch the morning ritual, you’ll have to get there by 4:10am.)
While I usually quite enjoy the colorful facades of temple buildings and the intricate paintings that take over the sides, there was something extremely appealing about seeing this temple by only the lights from within the buildings and the moonlight from above. I likely felt this way because I find the location of Bongeunsa extremely unappealing in such a central city location but seen in the night, the quiet and depths of darkness make it feel isolated and calming as most Buddhist temples that are actually isolated tend to make me feel.
Bongeunsa Temple is believed to have been built in 794CE during the reign of King Wonseong and was once known as Gyeonseongsa Temple. In 1498, the temple was re-established at the east of King Seongjong’s mausoleum by Queen Jeonghyeon and was renamed Bongeunsa. This temple became the head temple for the Seon (Zen) sect during the Joseon Dynasty with the support of Queen Munjeong when Buddhism was severely oppressed in the country and it was also during this time that it was moved to its current location. It was the main Seon temple from 1551 to 1936 though not everyone was happy and Monk Bo-wu who was appointed the head of the temple in 1548 was killed soon after appointment by anti-Buddhist factions who had regained dominance. While the temple saw many ups and down including being burnt down in 1939 and severely damaged during the Korean War, one hall, Panjeon, managed to survive and with it the Flower Garland (Avatamsaka) Sutra woodblock carvings from 1855 escaped the destruction and are still housed there today.
What draws many to this temple though is the tall stone statue of Maitreya Buddha which stands 23 meters tall and is the tallest statue of Maitreya in Korea. While not exactly that old, having just been built from 1986 and completed in 1996, the statue is impressive in stature and worth a view during the day or night when lit from all angles. If you’re in the area, stop by Bongeunsa especially if it’s just for a 30 minute peaceful meditation before fun or shopping at nearby Coex.
Bongeunsa Temple (봉은사)
서울특별시 강남구 봉은사로 531 (삼성동)
531, Bongeunsa-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Directions: Bongeunsa Subway Station, take exit 1 and walk straight. The temple will appear on your right.
Hours: 3:00am – 10:00pm
Days: Open all year round
Amenities: Temple Stay program, parking, English & Japanese interpretation services offered
-Weekly 2 hour programs are available to foreigners for W10,000 no reservation required on Thursdays from 2:00pm – 4:00pm. A temple tour, meditation and conversation with monks over a traditional tea ceremony are all included.
-Jeongdaebulsa is held each September 9th on the lunar calendar. Monks march around carrying the scriptures and recite the Buddhist rites.
When it comes to Japanese ramen, Nagomi Ramen (나고미라멘) stands above the rest as far as I am concerned.
Of my almost 10 years in Korea, eight and a half of them have been spent living in the near vicinity of Hongdae. As luck would have it, Hongdae offers a smorgasbord of restaurants including many many ramen shops. Back when Nagomi Ramen was a block from where it sits now, I became a fan and when they shut their doors my dreams of ever having them again were dashed… until my husband told me they were just moving around the bend (whew!).
Japanese ramen comes in three varieties: miso ramen, shoyu ramen made with soy sauce and tonkotsu ramen made with porkbone stock. I’m a fan of the tonkotsu variety and that’s one reason Nagomi is my go to hole in the wall.
While Nagomi Ramen has never been packed when we’ve entered, don’t let that fool you or keep you away, they are worth a visit in their little back alley shop. If you want to wait in a line to eat ramen, there are plenty of other ramen shops in Hongdae that will fit the bill. Nagomi is just a bit off the beaten path and out of the way, but once you find it, trust me you’ll want to go back again and again. The interior of the shop features planks of wood on the walls and the ceiling that make you feel as if you’re slurping up your noodles as you float in the hull of a ship. There’s a large table lit from below in the center that you can sit at if you’re going solo and want to perhaps meet some other solo-eating ramen fanatics and tables along the sides if you mosey in with a group.
The lights are lowered for a cozy romantic feel that only Haruki Murakami would be able to accurately describe in a way to make it sound as enticing as it is.
Nagomi Ramen (W7,000): They start with porkbone broth and add chicken/vegetable broth in a style that became popular by the Yamagoya Japanese ramen chain. The noodles are thin and float in the fatty goodness of the pork-smelling broth with large slices of pork and an egg that’s been boiled in soy sauce that tastes so good I could probably happily eat five of them in one go if they let me.
This soup is filling in the deep down in the belly when I stand up to walk I’ll be happy and ready for a nap sort of way.
서울특별시 마포구 서교동 370-24 지하 1층
Mapo-gu Seoggyo-dong 370-24 B1, Seoul
Hours: 11:30am ~ 9:00pm
Days: Open every day except Seollal and Chuseok
Amenities: parking, bathroom
Prices: W6,000 – W8,000 per bowl of ramen
Directions: Hongik Subway Station, exit 9 and walk straight. Turn left at the third street and then right at the second alley and the shop will be on your right. Or, Hapjeong subway station exit 3. Walk straight to the 7th street and turn right and walk to the second alley and turn right and the shop will be on your right.
If you’ve ever wanted more information about some statue, artistic work or just the architecture of a Buddhist temple you passed along the way in Korea, chances are KoreanTemples.com is the site you were led to. It’s one of the few sites with such information available in English. Dale Quarrington, the site’s owner and operator, recently published his second book on the religious sites that have captured his curiosity and intrigue while living on the peninsula. Much like his website, the book aims to provide information little known to English speaking foreigners and hopefully will give people the oomph to get up and out and see the religious relics and sites that have caught his attention.
For any traveler, new or old to Korea, Korean Temples: Art, Architecture, and History is a book worth a good sit down in a cozy nook or that quiet bus to read and maybe a fascinating temple is what will lead you to plan your next adventure in the Land of the Morning Calm.
Take a read over the recent interview I had with Dale to learn more about his new book and what he’s up to here in Korea.
Can you introduce yourself a bit. Where are you from, how long have you been in Korea, what you do here?
Hello, my name is Dale Quarrington, and I’m originally from near Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I’m from a small town called Tottenham, which has a population of about 5,000 people. I originally came to Korea back in August, 2003. I’ve been living in the Busan/Gyeongsangnam-do Province area ever since. I started off working at hagwons for the first four years in Korea. Since then, I’ve been working in the Korean public school system either as an elementary or middle school teacher.
Your website and books focus on Korean Buddhism and temples, where did the original interest come from? Were you always interested those topics?
I guess my original passion for Korean Buddhism came after my first visit to Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju in the fall of 2003. Before that, I didn’t have the slightest clue as to what religion, either historically or currently, Koreans worshipped. But what originally hooked me was the beautiful artwork, the link between Korea’s religious and historical past, as well as the vast differences and similarities between the Christianity I was raised on and what Korean Buddhism offered. Before I came to Korea, I had always found art, religion, and history to be fascinating. And at a Korean Buddhist temple, I could find all three in one place.
You’ve just written and published your second book, can you tell me what it’s about and why readers would be interested in purchasing it?
This book, Korean Temples: Art, Architecture, and History, is about the twenty-five most prominent temples throughout Korea. In fact, all nine Korean provinces are represented in the book. The focus of the book deals with the art, architecture, and history of each of these major temples like Tongdosa Temple, Bulguksa Temple, and Haeinsa Temple. I think this book helps explain the intricacies of Korean Buddhism that might not be all that well known to the expat community in Korea. And by focusing on the twenty-five most prominent temples in Korea, my book introduces ideas and places that are yet to be known.
Do your first and second books go together like a set, should readers purchase both together?
While not necessarily part of a set, I think Korean Temples: Art, Architecture, and History is a continuation of my first, Korean Temples: From Korea’s Southeast Corner. What I mean by that is that I’m introducing material, in English, that has never been published before. By doing this, I hope to introduce Korean Buddhism to a greater audience.
Did you do all of the writing and photography for your book? Was there anyone that helped you with this endeavor?
Like all endeavours, you never truly do a project alone. While I did take all the pictures and wrote the entire book on my own, I have had several contributors that have helped me through the process either by joining me on my temple trips, editing earlier drafts, or helping me with unknown iconography. While I was the primary on all the material within the two covers, I have an amazing support system in place.
Where can your book be purchased?
For now, people can either pick up Korean Temples: Art, Architecture, and History through Amazon.com in either paperback or e-book form. Another option is to get a signed paperback copy by emailing me personally through my site: Koreantemples.com In the future, I hope that my book will be picked up like the first through expanded distribution like at What the Book?
Is there anything you’d like to add about your site, book or anything else?
I guess what I would like to say is that if people are interested in Korean art, history, or religion, (even in the slightest); a good start would be to pick up Korean Temples: Art, Architecture, and History. Even if you’re not really interested in any of these three, but enjoy travelling around the Korean peninsula and don’t know all that much about Korean Buddhism, which plays such a central role in Korean tourism, I think my book would be a great introduction to help support your adventures.
Facebook: Dale’s Korean Temple Adventures Blog
Email for people to order a signed copy: email@example.com
*All photos in this post provided by and posted with the permission of Dale Quarrington of KoreanTemples.com
When my husband and I moved a couple years back, I decided it was high time we had a housewarming party or a jipdeuri (집들이) in Korean. We invited various friends and on the day of the get-together I was confused when my husband said we had to go get this food or that drink. Wouldn’t our friends be bringing food and it’s Korea, so probably drinks, or flowers and plants? As Emily Post had taught me, guests, though it’s not a rule, often bring drinks, say a bottle of wine, perhaps some bread and the odd plant or two. That had me thinking that my preparations weren’t as many as my husband then led me to believe.
In Korea, housewarming guests bring cleaning supplies, but more than any of that, they bring loads of tissue or toilet paper.
By the time the party was over, we were stacked ceiling high and certainly set for the year when it came to tissue. What was that all about, I wondered.
Where did the custom originate?
Originally, jipdeuri was the actual moving from one house to another and a ritual was done to thank the spirits and pray for good luck and fortune in the new abode. Come evening, family and friends would stop over to partake in a feast to celebrate. Probably due to lack of electricity, the gifts way back when consisted of lots of candles and matches to “light up” the new house with good fortune and happiness. If the period in the previous home was especially prosperous, families would take embers from the previous home to the new home still lit to continue the prosperity.
These days, not everyone in Korea holds housewarming parties because people move much more often now and the rituals just aren’t done as often. If a housewarming party is done, due to the lack of need of candles and matches, the gifts have shifted to cleaning supplies and tissue.
Why cleaning supplies and tissue?
Cleaning supplies and tissue used to be luxury items as they were expensive so the gift was seen as a pretty special one. Cleaning supplies like detergent bubble profusely and as such mean the person hopes the residents wealth will “bubble over”. Rolls of tissue and kitchen towels are long also adding to the prosperity wishes to the friends or family that has moved.
Alternative times to give toilet paper:
Toilet paper as a gift came up in my life recently because though we’ve lived in our house for over two years, I was gifted more toilet paper from the manager of a nearby construction crew. Because they were bound to be noisy and cause commotion in the neighborhood, he was going around offering toilet paper and tissue to the neighbors. This was the third time that a construction crew manager had given me some sort of paper cleansing gift. Suffice it to say, if you want to gift something to a Korean and be generous, toilet paper is a good go-to and never seems to be out of the question.
What do you take to housewarming parties?
Celebrating the first birthday of a child is a joyous occasion in any culture and when it came time for us to celebrate we had to decide which parts of each of our cultures we wanted to bring together for the big day.
Ultimately, we had two small get-togethers, one with my foreign friends and one with my husband’s Korean friends. This was done just out of ease and lack of space for both groups in our home. While some families in Korea opt for the larger halls for birthdays in which families and friends gather to watch as the child is paraded around a room, a video of the first year feats will likely play and a buffet meal is available to eat, many people are opting for small get-togethers these days, much cheaper, and in my opinion, more fun for the child.
My First Experience at a Doljanchi (돌잔치):
The first time I went to a Korean friend’s child’s first birthday bash, I expected to see balloons, lots of children playing and a cake, possibly mashed between tiny fingers, and other fun toys and things. I was surprised to find that the event was much like Korean weddings. Set in a hall, there was no place for the child to play let alone other children to play with. Adults sat around tables eating their buffet grub while a video of the baby from one month to twelve months played. The child was carried from table to table, clearly unhappily as he just wanted down to walk or stumble or to do whatever. Eventually he was taken to the front to choose an item from the table to foretell his future and of course lots of photos were snapped. It all seemed contrived and the least amount of fun a kid could have on his special day though this was before I understood the importance of the ceremony. At the end, I walked away with a gift for being the only foreigner in the room and a party favor while the child had no gifts to speak of. Of course my expectations came from my western roots so this style of birthday wasn’t all that appealing to me.
Time For Our Own First Birthday Bash:
When it came time for us, I was adamantly against the “lets invite everyone we know to a hall for our baby’s first birthday” idea though I did want to learn more about the festivities that are a part of the Korean birthday festivities. I wanted to bring together some close friends, likely those with children or those that wanted to sit on the floor and play with our child, open gifts, let her have her first cake with icing and told my husband to decide which Korean traditions he wanted to have so that both sides were portrayed as long as she could enjoy herself above all else.
The Traditional Korean Birthday:
The first birthday is called a “dol” (돌) or “doljanchi” (돌잔치) in Korean. This celebration was extremely important in the past as many newborns never made it to the first birthday due to lack of medicinal knowledge and childhood disease so when a child made it through the first year, a huge celebration would take place. The child would be dressed up in his/her first Hanbok. Parents would pray to two Korean gods: Sanshin (the mountain god) and Samshin (the birth goddess) to start off the dol rite. Bowls of rice, seaweed soup (miyeok-guk 미역국) and water along with rice cakes would be placed on a table and the mother or grandmother, only a familial woman in the family, would begin a prayer by bringing her hands together and rubbing her palms. The mountain god would be asked to give the child longevity while the birth goddess was thanked for the birth. While this part of the ceremony is often foregone these days, I find it important to know in order to understand the event a bit better and its importance to the Korean culture.
The main event of the first birthday is the doljabi (돌자비) ceremony. A variety of objects are put on a table or tray in front of the child and whatever the child chooses foretells his or her future. The objects have evolved over time so in the list below you can see some traditional objects and what are clearly newer objects added to the table.
Items for the doljabi may include:
- pencil/book (smarts)
- food (won’t go hungry)
- money (wealth)
- thread (longevity)
- needle (talent in the hands)
- scissors (talent in the hands)
- ruler (talent in the hands)
- bow and arrow (military career)
- microphone (entertainer)
- golf club/balls (athlete)
- computer mouse (tech. adept)
For the Korean party, two of my husband’s friends also have babies and all three of them were born within two weeks of each other so we decided to have a get together with the three families to celebrate the babies and let them play. Our daughter chose a computer mouse off the doljabi table and my husband seemed displeased though he laughed loudly. I think he pictured a gamer or someone obsessed with the computer while I had pictured Steve Jobs and other tech savvy people. I was the only one to bring a gift for each babe, but again I’m the only foreigner in the bunch and I just couldn’t think of attending a birthday party without bringing a gift. The children all chose their items and played for hours while the parents ate and enjoyed some drinks.
The Traditional American Birthday:
While many people are going big or going home these days with their children’s birthday parties, I wanted to keep it simple and to the point. When I pictured a birthday party, I saw a cake and it smashed between some tiny fingers and rubbed all over cheeks, presents to open, an exciting rendition of the song “Happy Birthday” and food for all. No theme necessary for a one year old was my motto. At some point in the future, she will surely let me know what theme she wants and then we’ll go with themes because I do love a good theme party after all. I chose yellow and white as the colors for some streamers and taped some photos of the babe throughout her first year in the shape of a one on the wall and the decorations were complete. She loved that “one” of pictures, too.
She had her first cake with icing and ate every little bit and when it came time to sing to her, the first few lines of the already quite short “Happy Birthday” stunned her into silence. Though once she realized we were all singing to her, she start bouncing and threw her arms into the air as if she were the maestro leading the choir. When we stopped singing, she was still waving her arms in the air like she just didn’t care. The opening of the presents also worked out really well. Once she realized that everyone would applaud for her when she tore through a box or some paper and retrieved what was inside, she was all about putting on a show. While she was the only baby there, as I am the only foreigner in my group of western friends that has had a baby so far, everyone sat on the floor to play with her and I’m pretty sure she had a wonderful time and so did the crew in attendance.
In the end, we celebrated in both American and Korean fashion and each party, though quite different, was fun for the birthday girl and brought together supportive and fun friends.
Have you celebrated a multicultural birthday party? What different parts of each culture did you bring together for the big day?
Much like 2014, not all of the adventures I undertook this year involved traveling yet this year managed to be extremely adventurous and full of first time experiences.
I love looking back at my year and appreciating everything that I’ve done. It’s always fun to reminisce and be thankful for the experiences, events, people and more that I have had, gone to and met. I hope that everyone takes the time to recall their year as we near the end and I hope that everyone has at least a few moments to smile upon and be grateful for. Here are my top ten adventures of 2015!
- Introducing The Baby to Everyone & Everything: This year was full of introductions. Taking the baby outside for the first time and having Korean neighbors “ooh” and “aah” and poke and prod and also tell me to cover her up and uncover her at the same time. It was a roller coaster of events and feelings including dread having a baby in a country far far away from the one I grew up in and excitement on this new journey we were embarking on. She would be both Korean and American and bringing those two cultures together with an infant was almost more excitement than we could handle.
- The Soul of Seoul Tours: This year saw a little business venture I started with a fellow expat grow. We’re still a small business catering to the family and friends that want to see some of Korea, but we got our first tourists that weren’t our friends, friends of friends or family and that was exhilarating. Luckily, I have a great partner that helped when I couldn’t go out due to the baby and wonderful tourists to share stories with and meet along the way and we are so thrilled to see what 2016 will bring.
- A Flight With a Baby & Touching Elephants: In April it was time to take our little one on her first international flight at just four months of age so that she could meet her American family members. A great grandmother, grandmother and numerous aunts and uncles and cousins needed to give her as many hugs as they could in a month. Of course we were nervous to fly for that long for the first time with her but it went by swimmingly and then to top off the trip home in which we basically stayed in Ohio the whole time which is unlike our usual trips Stateside, we headed to the Cincinnati Zoo and we got to touch huge elephants, feed giraffes and enjoy some pretty neat behind the scenes animal situations that I, and of course she, had never done before.
- The Seoul Fortress Wall: While this may not sound super get up and get out adventuresome because I’ve been there before, a few times. This was my first hike back out after having a baby and it reminded me that I have a goal to hike the whole 18 kilometers of the fortress wall before I leave Korea. (No, I’m not leaving anytime soon.) The portion that I hiked is one of my favorite parts as it wraps behind Gyeongbukgung Palace and the Blue House and offers insight into history, culture and architecture though.
- Taean-gun: By the time summer hit, I was so in need of a trip to someplace new but wasn’t quite ready to just get the babe in my Bjorn carrier and hop a plane. I did manage to convince my husband to take a trip to the east coast of Korea though to a place we hadn’t been to before. We saw the mudflats of Mongsanpo Beach, walked under the tall tall pine trees of the Anmyeon-do Island Recreational Park and basked in the sun on the white sands of Kkotji Beach. Taean-gun’s many many beaches and national park lined coastline offer plenty more than we could see but it was a much needed new adventure into an area previously unseen by us.
- Naksan Beach & Temple: Back from Taean-gun, the travel bug was still itching and as luck would have it, two girl friends had some free time to head to the west coast of Korea to wrap the summer up in beachy Korean style. Because our go-to, the gorgeous Gyeongpo Beach, had no hotel space available, we opted to head a bit north to a new area and were taken aback at the beauty of the sand, the water and intrigued by the beautiful temple that sat on a cliff overlooking the peaceful area. The west coast of Korea has so much more to explore and Naksan Beach is just a starting point for that picturesque region of Korea.
- Seoul Parks Astound: While I was pregnant, visiting parks became a favored pastime. The five parks of the World Cup Parks system just up the road were beautiful the previous autumn and yet come fall of 2015, I managed to find plots of flowers with very few people around which I hadn’t seen before. To keep the momentum, I loaded everyone into the car and we headed to a new park to explore how nature had overtaken the industrial remnants in West Seoul Lake Park. Parks with that something different or that something beautiful are always intriguing and this park sure hit the mark. Seoul has so so many parks yet to explore.
- Raising a Child: Raising a child is already an adventure that is to be sure and figuring out how to compromise two cultural backgrounds and deciding what is best for our own bundle of joy over the past year has been intense. Watching her grow has given me so many make-me-want-tear-up-once-a-day-every-day moments because it’s beautiful to watch someone learn about themselves and the world around them for the first time. There has been no other adventure like raising a person. Yes, I know she’s on here twice, but there have been so many moments that I have been amazed and awed by her already that really she could take all ten spots this year.
- Groove Magazine: Another venture in 2015 came when I was asked to write an article for Groove Magazine a pretty popular expat mag in Seoul. One article turned into two and by now I’ve written one or two a month since early in the year. It’s been exciting to be featured in a magazine and to even hear people talk about certain articles I’ve written not realizing I was the one that wrote them. I’m so happy to be able to share some information and hopefully get more foreigners out and about in Korea… and abroad.
- Kona, Hawai’i: To wrap up the year, we headed to Hawai’i to meet family from Australia, Texas, Colorado and Ohio to celebrate Christmas together and New Year’s. Having never been to Hawai’i before it was probably the biggest travel highlight of the year. The white sand and black sand beaches were gorgeous and we even got to see live turtles sunning and swimming. We snorkeled with dolphins and drank world famous Kona coffee. There wasn’t much more to ask for on the trip.
What were some of your favorite adventures of 2015?