Old churches, temples, and other religious sites

One thing Carolyn and I really enjoy doing when we go places is exploring sights that are a) old, b) free, and c) of a religious nature. Neither of us is very religious, but it’s pretty amazing how good humans are at architecture and engineering when they’re divinely inspired. We’ve wound up exploring the churches of New York City in the midst of a shopping trip. Our day trip to Macau turned into a trail of Catholic churches left by the Portuguese explorers half a millennium ago. I fully expect every stop we make in Europe to include at least one church, and probably more than a few classical era temples, too. For today’s post, I thought it would be cool to compile some pictures of old churches, temples, and other religious sites that we’ve visited over the years.

Mission San Jose - San Antonio, Texas

Mission San Jose, one of Spain’s old missionary outposts from the conquistador days.

The interior of St. Augustine's Church.

The interior of St. Augustine’s Church.

The beautiful interior of St. Laurence's Church

The beautiful interior of St. Laurence’s Church

A golden Buddha statue inside the temple building.

A golden Buddha statue inside the temple building.

Wong Tai Sin Temple, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Wong Tai Sin temple,

 

St. John the Divine - New York

St. John the Divine – New York

 

Macau - St. Dominic's Church

St. Dominic’s Church, smack dab in the middle of the historical district.

Macau - St Laurence Church exterior

The exterior of St. Laurence’s Church.

Macau - Ruins of St Paul's

The Ruins of St. Paul’s Church are Macau’s most iconic site (other than the Grand Lisboa, perhaps).

Macau - Igreja da Se

Inside Igreja da Se

Macau - Inside St Dominics Church

Inside St. Dominic’s.

Wat Chalong Complex

Wat Chalong Complex

Wat Karon, a new temple in Karon.

Wat Karon, a new temple in Karon.

Wat Chalong is a stunningly beautiful temple complex

Wat Chalong is a stunningly beautiful temple complex

Sensoji Temple pagoda

The temple and pagoda at Sensoji are beautiful old structures in a super modern city.

Incense smoke filling the air in Wong Tai Sin temple.

Incense smoke filling the air in Wong Tai Sin temple.

Wong Tai Sin Temple with apartments, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Inside Wong Tai Sin temple.

Kinkakuji Temple - The Golden Pavilion

Why do they call it the Golden Pavilion?

Ginkakuji - The Silver Pavilion

Ginkakuji Temple – the silver pavilion.

Gwanam Temple

One of the oldest temples in Korea, on Mt. Gaya

One of the oldest temples in Korea, on Mt. Gaya

 

Pura Batur - Bali

Pura Batur – Bali

Korea: The images that stick with me

Trying to boil down the images that stuck with me from two years of life in South Korea is an impossible task, but some of the memories are so vivid that I can’t pass up the opportunity to share them again. These are a few raw, unedited photos from our time in Korea that seem the freshest and most vivid in my mind. I’m not going to provide any explanation, but I will let you wonder what the sounds and smells associated with these pictures were to make them so bold in my memory. Korea was very kind to us for two years, and I certainly won’t forget our time there any time soon.

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Where in the world is Carmen SanDiego the primate?

I think it’s been nearly two weeks, maybe more since I’ve updated the blog, and what a whirlwind it’s all been. At the moment I’m sitting in my soon to be mother in law’s living room typing up this short little update on my iPad because my computer is a little too bulky for the living room and power adapters and such need to be changed back to the US configuration. Time is of the essence right now, so the blog has taken a back seat to other important things like acquiring the things we need for the wedding, enjoying being around family, and eating everything that looks delicious. As we’re planning to move to New York this summer, you might imagine our plates are a bit on the full side while we’re here, figuring out where things are and such.

TL;DR: life is a little bit of a mess right now.

What I can tell you about the past couple weeks right now is this:

Less than 12 hours after leaving our jobs in Korea for the last time, we were sitting in Incheon international airport waiting for a flight to Tokyo. We were overjoyed to find that Tokyo’s Narita international airport has baggage storage services, so we only lugged what we really needed into the city, and then spent the rest of the afternoon and evening resting because life after an overnight bus ride is basically crap. We enjoyed the rest of our three day stay in Tokyo, filled up on the delicious foods of Japan, and hopped an Air Canada flight back to New York.

We couldn’t sit next to each other on the long haul from Tokyo to Toronto, which sucked, but going through customs and immigration in Toronto instead of in Houston is a much more pleasant experience, so I guess it’s a good trade. Since arriving in New York we’ve gotten phones, eaten lots of good stuff, visited with family, and done some wedding planning stuff that had to be done. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll find the missing piece of a suit I’ve totally fallen in love with and I’ll have a full set (I got all of the bits I need for the wedding today…just need the matching jacket now.)

Tuesday we are going to fly down to San Antonio to see my family and get ready for the wedding and honeymoon, and I think at that point I’ll be able to go through my photos from Tokyo, write down a decent set of thoughts that are far better organized than this stream of consciousness word vomit, and get back up to speed with more regular posts.

TL;DR: it turns out moving half way around the world will make blogging difficult.

So long, Korea – That’s all he wrote.

Ah. Korea. Our home for the last two years. As with any place, there’s a lot to like, a bit to dislike, and a lot of experiences to be had. I think we’ve definitely gotten a good idea of what this country is all about, who its people are, and what makes them tick over the past seven-hundred-thirty some odd days. It’s time to finish packing our bags, clean out the apartment one last time, put everything in order (because the new English teacher at my school will be promptly starting their adventure at about the same moment that we walk out the door), and say good bye to the country that has played host to us for the past two years.

Thanks, Korea!

Like many of the English teachers who have flocked to these shores, we’re going home in a much better financial position. Riding out the recession as a teacher overseas was at once a great way to force ourselves to travel, expand our food tastes, and save up a few dollars while we were at it. We’re by no means debt free (that would take a few more years at this pay rate) but we are far more solid than before we took our first flight to Busan. I hope that in five, ten, and twenty years, we’ll look back on our time in Korea as the time that we really put our ducks in a row and created a springboard to a better life. For putting us in this position financially, I’m quite thankful to the Republic of Korea.

Immigrants at Ellis Island by tetrisiz, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  tetrisiz 

I appreciate immigrants more than ever after life in Korea

I think that life abroad has given me a huge serving of humble-pie. As it turns out I don’t know as much as I thought I did before we set out on this journey. Clearly I’ve learned a lot since we left, but I think I realize that I’m not an expert on everything in life, and I don’t want to be. No one wants to study that hard, am I right?

I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is this. People go to different countries for work all the time. Even if they don’t speak that country’s native language, they’re trying the best they can. It might be a slight bit more effort to help them out, but they should be given the same level of service, respect, and effort that any other person would receive.

I’ve never been anti-immigrant, but in the past I have thought to myself learn English, dammit! It’s funny where life leads you. Now I don’t think I’ll get irritated if someone hasn’t learned English, because dude, I’ve been there!  That’s just one of the many lessons that a straight, white, male from the U.S. can learn in Korea. I’m not even going to bother going into the more complex ones.

cherry blossoms

Korea taught me how to take the good with the bad, and the bad with the good

At times, life in Korea has been bliss. Springtime in Korea is the most beautiful springtime I’ve had the pleasure to see, with the trees turning all shades of pink, red, orange, even white with delicate flowers that show you how beautiful the world can be before they just as quickly fall to the ground and usher in the heat of the summer. At other times, it’s been absolutely infuriating, as a subway trip to the train station can turn into a lecture about how Jesus is returning to earth, in Korea, nonetheless, and you should be prepared to be judged…whilst the lecturer’s handbag repeatedly swings within inches of your face as it dangles from the arm she’s using to hold the safety handle. No kidding. That happened. Last night. Crazy lady.

I’ve seen what the Koreans do far better than us (health care,  cell phone plans, public transportation, karaoke, gun control) and appreciated the differences. Often I’ve wondered why we can’t have this kind of thing at home, as we’re certainly advanced enough. I’ve also seen things that we do far better than they (individuality, education, equality, generally living a less stressful life) and will appreciate those things when we get home more than I ever have before. It’s been eye opening not only because of new experiences, but because of the way new experiences reflect on things that have been such fixtures in life at home that they’re basically invisible. It’s really great to see not only how good things can be, but also how good things already are, because it’ll help to keep perspective the next time I feel like vomiting on a pharmaceutical exec’s shoes for ripping us so off at home for things that are sold (full price) for far less over here. Yes. Brand name.

Life abroad has helped me learn the wisdom of julia child

The last thing I have to say about the two years we’re wrapping up in Korea is what I call the wisdom of Julia Child. Basically, don’t be afraid. We were scared, nervous wrecks when we moved here. The North Koreans had just shelled Yeongpyeong Island, it seemed like everything was escalating, and we really didn’t have a backup plan. Everything worked out fine.

When we decided to go to Bali, I was a scared, paranoid mess until we landed and walked around a bit. Then, I realized that in all likelihood, no one was going to try and hurt me. Later on that trip, when our debit cards were skimmed and our bank froze our accounts, I blew a gasket (the telephone representative was not at all helpful, in my defense), had to make some calls home to get some cash in an American account we could access, and you know what, it was all okay.

The super nice man who arranged our taxi from Lovina to Ubud said, “We don’t get American tourists anymore after the bomb. Before the bomb there were many Americans, now none. Please tell your friends and family, no bombs here now.” We can’t be too afraid to go to absolutely beautiful places like Bali because of an event that happened ten years ago. It’s not fair to them, and it’s certainly not fair to us. There will be more about this topic in a future post. My new travel rules of selecting destinations to visit are simple. Don’t be stupid, but don’t be afraid. Thanks, Korea.

This will be my last post from Korea, but certainly not my last post about Korea.  Another lesson I’ve learned here is to know my limits, and at this point my brain has been pushed to the edges of those limits with the simple knowledge that in four days we’re leaving, and our bags need to be packed down tight, the apartment needs to be cleaned, and we need to have everything in order to make it quickly and easily onto our flight to Tokyo on Tuesday. It’s been real, and it’s been fun.

So long, and thanks for all the fish memories and lessons learned, Korea!

 

 

So long, Korea! – A song of lunch hours past

For well over a year now I’ve been wanting to make a musical mix-up of the lunch conversation I had every day with multiple teachers while I was a teacher here in Korea. The first year at work, I’d join the teachers and students in the cafeteria for lunch as prepared by the nice little ladies in pink vinyl aprons and waders.

I’ll be frank and honest here. Half of the time, the lunch was terrifying. Either Korean blood sausage (which wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t so gelatinous), overcooked octopus, or nothing but a pile of raw onions in sesame oil was served as a main. Often, my Irish coworker would bail on lunch and head across the street to get something from the convenience store. Foolishly, I’d try to save face by staying in the cafeteria and choking down whatever crap was shoveled onto my stainless steel divided tray. With my comrade absent from the battle scene, I’d sit with the Korean teachers, eat as quickly as possible, smile, bow, and get out of there as quick as I could.

You see, eating with the Korean teachers wasn’t so bad, except I could often hear the words for foreigner, American, Charlie and other identifiers that referred to me. The stares were obvious. I don’t know if they were waiting for me to vomit, gag, or tap dance, but it seemed that they expected it would be entertaining. Often, a teacher from a different subject area would try to make conversation to practice their English. I like helping people out, but it’s really difficult to make slow, clear conversation while you’re eating. It’s also really difficult to be interested in a conversation when you’ve had the same one a thousand times over. It’s what I call, the standard Korean dining conversation.

Korean: You use chopsticks very well.

Foreigner: Yes, I’ve been eating Chinese, Japanese, and Korean food for years.

Korean: Do you know kimchi?

Foreigner: Yes, we have a large community of Koreans at home, I’m very familiar with kimchi.

Korean: Oh, I think Korean food is too spicy for foreigners.

Foreigner: No, I eat far spicier food quite often.

Korean: Yes, it’s too spicy.

So it’s kind of a humorous thing. Someone wants to practice their English, but it’s always the same conversation. Different answers to questions don’t yield a different response. It’s really kinda awkward for everyone involved, but it makes for a good beat, non?

 

So long, Korea – Good bye, Gyeongbokgung.

So long, Korea! is a series of posts dedicated to the two years that we are wrapping up in South Korea. These posts are a little bit of a departure from the normal food and travel type posts, but I feel like it’s important to reflect on the past couple of years and all of the changes we’ve been through since then. Don’t worry, this series will come to a swift end before March 1st, when we’ll be back to food and travel in Tokyo, Japan.

 

Yesterday we took a day trip up to Seoul to have one last day of sightseeing and shopping in Korea’s largest and most important city. It was kind of a walk down memory lane, a chance to say goodbye to some places we’ve visited a number of times, and will likely not return to see again. Our main stop, and really the only place that I took any pictures, was the old palace, Gyeongbokgung.

It seems like as we’ve seen other palaces and temples throughout Asia that Gyeongbokgung might have shrunk a little bit. We first visited Gyeongbokgung just a few weeks after we arrived, with our friends from Canada who have since left Korea. We visited again when my mother came over for a week in the fall of 2011. It only seemed appropriate to visit again with the eyes of a tourist who knows that they will be home in a short time.

It was a beautiful day, although snow-melt turned some of the grounds to mud. We walked in and around the complex remembering the times we had been here before, noting the differences between spring, autumn, and winter on the grounds. We stayed to watch the changing of the guard one more time, and looking at people who seemed like they might be some newly-arrived English teacher’s like us I thought this is kind of poignant, we’re handing over our jobs to these people. We stood there in front of one of Seoul’s greatest landmarks at the end of this adventure and I imagine those who I assumed were new arrivals were at the beginning of theirs. Cool, right?

This close to the end of the contract, when bills need to be paid, accounts closed, and bags packed, it was really nice to jet off on the high speed train to Seoul and spend a day laughing, smiling, and saying goodbye to some of the places we’ve enjoyed most in Korea.

So long, Korea! – 10 things I won’t miss about life in the R.O.K.

So long, Korea! is a series of posts dedicated to the two years that we are wrapping up in South Korea. These posts are a little bit of a departure from the normal food and travel type posts, but I feel like it’s important to reflect on the past couple of years and all of the changes we’ve been through since then. Don’t worry, this series will come to a swift end before March 1st, when we’ll be back to food and travel in Tokyo, Japan.

As with any place on the planet, there’s lots of good stuff (at least 10 things) and not so great stuff (keep reading) about life in Korea.I figure a rant is always kind of a fun thing to read, and certainly a fun thing to write, so keep that in mind as you read this. Over the past 730 days there hasn’t been one where I’ve woken up and been like “aw crap, I’m still in Korea.” Okay. Maybe one. Or two. The fact of the matter is, Korea is kind of a distinctive place to live, and there are plenty of environmental cues that remind you pleasantly (or not) of exactly where you are. Let me just repeat one more time, this is a tongue-in-cheek rant intended for humor. Korea is a nice place and you wouldn’t hate yourself for visiting. Koreans are largely very nice people. Let’s have a look at a few, shall we?

Myeongdong streets

Walk down this street, any time, any day, and get shoved, bumped, and bounced like a pinball.

1. Pushing, shoving, and bad use of space. Seriously, this is my number one gripe about life in Korea. If Carolyn and I are on a sidewalk walking together with four feet of open space on either side of us it’s not uncommon for someone to try to push between us. I’ve read online that this is a “microaggression” caused by the elders trying to assert their dominance on the youngs or whatever. I find it somewhat comical  because usually they’re much shorter than me and bounce off. Now, imagine the same situation (sidewalk is the key word), and someone trying to get between us with a cart, motorbike, stroller, or car. Yes. A car. This happens frequently each time we venture out onto the streets, and it’s my number one gripe.

2. If I’m trying to speak your language, don’t laugh in my face. Seriously. When we first moved to Korea I really wanted to learn Korean and pick up a language and blah blah blah. Was my pronunciation perfect? No. For example, I asked where the rice was in the grocery store one day. Easy enough, I mean I think that’s a sentence of about three words. The lady at the store looked at me as if an anaconda was wriggling out of my butt. When she figured out what I was saying she laughed out loud. That was the day I quit trying to learn the language, as it was painfully obvious that even if I knew it I couldn’t use it in a conversation (because the thought of a big goofy tall American speaking Korean is…hilarious?).

3. Don’t try to practice your English with me unless you’re really being friendly. Seriously. How often in your life do you have this conversation? “Hello. How are you? I’m fine-thank-you-and-you? *giggle*” This isn’t a meaningful attempt at communication. Neither is letting your 10 year old yell “hello” at me from 50 meters away uncontrollably. Actually that’s bad, because it draws attention to me and I don’t like that. Don’t be surprised if I turn around and glare at you. If you want to talk to me, fine. I’m cool with that, but let’s make it something interesting that I don’t hear a thousand times a day.

4. I realize that I’m good looking and all (ha), but don’t look at me that long. And please don’t even think about taking a picture of me with your phone. That’s creepy. This is usually older people, usually on the subway. They stare, mouth agape, as if I’m another species. This happens a lot in the bathroom too. At the urinal. And they’re not looking at my face. Jeez.

5. Texting/facebooking/watching TV on your gigantic smart phone while walking. This causes lots of collisions. Collisions betwixt humans. Collisions between humans and bicycles. Bicycles and street signs. Humans and old ladies pulling carts of cardboard. All sorts of collisions.

6. The social acceptability of not using earbuds. Want to hear some music on your hike? I mean, the sounds of nature are too much for you, right? Might as well just blast it out of your phone or boombox so that everyone can enjoy it together! Why stay home to watch a baseball game on your TV when you can watch it on your phone in a beautiful alpine forest? See what I’m getting at? You can’t escape the hustle and bustle of the city in the countryside, because invariably someone will be watching their stories or listening to some really great music on their phone. Meh.

7.The supreme overarching fear of causing confrontation that keeps public settings pretty drama-free. I told you this would come back. Have you ever made that call to a customer service line, and realized the person on the other end was having a terrible day where they’ve been yelled at a lot, probably called a liar, and verbally beaten into a bag of broken jelly beans and shattered dreams? Shoot, I’ve been that guy. That’s when they’ll put you on hold to try and get your problem resolved without talking to you because they’re afraid that you will also yell at them. Well, Korea is like that all the time. Trying to buy the stickers for your compost bin? Wait please while we find someone that speaks English, they’re on their lunch break so just stand here for the next twenty seven minutes. BUT I ASKED IN KOREAN. See what I’m saying?

8. The nationalism grates on me as if I’m a block of cheddar. Typically, I don’t have any problem with someone being proud of their country. I do roll my eyes when you tell me I should have purchased a Samsung camera instead of the Canon one around my neck. I mean, c’mon.

We were at the Sejong museum thing in Seoul yesterday, and the way the translation of the exhibit said King Sejong invented: the sun-dial, the astronomical calendar, the telescope, and a plethora of other things that were invented much earlier in China, Rome, and Greece. I mean. For real?

9. Look, your history with Japan is ugly and all, but I’m not Korean and you’re not going to convince me that Japan is “bad.” I know what the Empire of Japan did here during their occupation. I know that they are claiming ownership of two rocks (with good fishing and potential energy resources) that you’ve had two police officers settled on for years. The fact of the matter is, this isn’t my issue on which to have an opinion, and it makes me uncomfortable to talk about it with you. Here’s a sample conversation I had with a student recently:

Primate: Do you like Japanese or Korean ramen better?

Student: Korean ramen, because I hate Japan.

Primate: Do you hate it because it’s not as spicy?

Student: I hate Japan because Japan is bad.

Primate: Have you been to Japan?

Student: No.

Primate: I know history with Japan is ugly, but you should go meet the people. They are very friendly and nice now.

For the record, I think Japanese ramen is far superior. The Japanese do seasonings like Van Gogh did fine art, ya know? The Koreans go all Jackson Pollock with the red pepper flakes.

10. What the heck is with the pickles? I understand the traditional Korean pickling of stuff, in fact it’s one of the cool things about the cuisine. I don’t understand all of the sweet pickles served with everything though. Order a pizza? Pickles. Go to an Italian place? Pickles. I’d like to point out that they’re always sweet pickles too. I’d be way more open to the idea if they were dill pickles, I guess. Nevermind, this might be a blessing in disguise because I’ve often chopped those pickles later and added them to tuna salad for lunch.