Sunday, June 30, 2013

"Don't worry, it's just for fun..."

I wish this was taken on the opposite side so you could have seen the crowd!
Short but kind of funny story...

On Saturday, June 29th, I was checking Facebook and noticed one of the girls in my Bible study group was asking for a volunteer to play volleyball later that evening. She said her team was one girl short and needed another player. I wrote back that I would be her last resort and that I was terrible since I hadn't played in three years. (Since the whole Ulsan elementary school volleyball fiasco...)

She wrote back a few hours later saying they needed me to play and if I could show up at Bukbu Beach at 6pm wearing all black, that would be great. Again, I reiterated my lack of ability but she said, "Don't worry, it's just for fun." So I walked the seven minutes to the beach, Gatorade in hand and dressed as a ninja.

When I arrived I saw no foreigners. I assumed because it was "just for fun" we would be playing a bunch of other four-player foreigner volleyball teams. I sat on a bench for a bit waiting until people started showing up. A girl named Paulina came up to me and asked if I was Kelly's friend Sarah, I nodded and she said "thanks for coming." She proceeded to mention that we will be practicing since our game doesn't start until after 8pm. Confused of what she meant by 'game', I asked her. She said, "Oh, we play Korean ajuma's (older women)." Taken back, I asked her to clarify. She said, "Ya, they are really good. We play around 8pm after the boys game."

At this point, I'm thinking about all the ways I can murder Kelly and get away with it. She left out the minor detail that this was a real tournament game with official nets, referees and an ever growing crowd! Being that I am in Korea, I should have suspected something like this. Nothing is ever done just recreational. It's always a serious competition.

I met Meg the other girl on "my team" and we began practicing. After about 30 minutes of hitting the ball around with each other a group of Korean women who we though were our opponents came up and wanted to practice with us. We welcomed the warm-up competition and boy were we terrible. It was clear we had never played together and it took us about 30 minutes to get the hang of things. We began to gain a little confidence in our ability and were getting excited to play this team for real.

By now, we had warmed up for an hour and a half and my arms were already starting to bruise and get tender. The nerves and worry kicked in when our game time neared and the crowed grew bigger and bigger. I mean who wouldn't stop to watch a sand volleyball game where four young American women were playing four older Korean women? It had to be comical.

Turns out, the team we thought we were playing, we were not. We were playing a team that was apparently REALLY good. Just great. They introduced us, we bowed, shook hands and it was game time. I'm literally shaking at this point just hoping I don't get a spike to the face. You see, in Ulsan when I played, it was a nine-man team. Six guys and three of us girls stuck in the back. I never had to touch the ball! But in this case, there were only four of us, so touching the ball was inevitable and taking hard spikes was a reality.

We played to 21 points, best out of three. On their very first serve I pulled my left quad. It should have been an indicator of how this match would play out. Needless to say, the first game was over in about five-minutes as it was CLEAR we did not have our groove. The crowed started to feel sorry for us and turned into a whole section of cheerleaders which was nice! Sadly, we lost the second game as well but we played SO MUCH BETTER. We started to figure out everyone's strengths and Andrew said we actually looked pretty good :)

Considering it had been years since I played I was very proud of myself. Being that we had never played/met before Saturday, our team did better than expected. We hung around after the game and played another 45 minutes to practice before I had to call it quits. My body was aching so bad, the walk home was a bit torturous.

Two days later, I can seriously hardly walk, but look forward to 'subbing' in future games!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Culture in the Classroom

Celebrating with a pizza dinner!
In March I was told that I needed to write a skit so our school could participate in the city wide English play contest. The only guidelines I was given was that it needed to have some sort of message and could be no longer than the allotted five-minutes. Belle told me that last year popular topics included bullying, taking care of the Earth, and Dokdo Island rightfully belonging to Korea and not Japan. With all of these pretty serious topics in mind, I decided to take a risk and go the lighthearted route.

I decided to make my skit about things I experienced as a foreign teacher in Korea. Easy enough right? I mean, I am a primary source for information on this topic. Being that it was only five-minutes and I had never written a play before I approached it like an essay. I mapped out my three main topics, wrote a thesis statement and a concluding line to wrap up my ideas; then, all I would have to do is fill in the details.

The basis of my skit was as follows:
  • There are five characters: The foreign teacher, an exchange student from America (Britney), and three Korean students.
  • The Setting: The first day of school at a Korean elementary school
  • The First Issue: The teacher is wearing her "outdoor shoes" inside and didn't know that "indoor shoes" were a thing. --Korean students politely explain the significance
  • The Second Issue: Exacto knives. In Korea, students carry exacto knives around instead of scissors. Something that catches ALL foreign teachers off guard the first time you tell them to "cut something out." --Again, Korean students explain why.
  • The Third Issue: Fan death. The foreign teacher turns on the fan because the students are hot but she does not open the window. The Korean students act dramatically about how they are going to die because there is a fan on and no window open to circulate the air so they fear their own fan death (TRUE Korean theory). --The teacher secretly closes the window and Britney points out that the Korean students are all alive.
  • The Theme: Explaining differences to other cultures helps us learn new things. You are not right and I'm not wrong in the way we do things, it's just different
Then, Belle thought we needed a song at the end. I agreed so she sent me a popular 30-second commercial in Korea and asked me to change the words. I obliged and it actually turned out really cute! The cheesy song lyrics are below. Feel free to click the link and sing my lyrics instead :)

You and me, you and me.
Korean, Thai, American, cultures are unique.
I'm not right and you're not wrong no matter the technique.
I might think one way is best and you might disagree,
If you are confused I want you to just ask me.
Exacto knives? Alight!
Changing shoes? Allllright.
You and me, you and me, oh ya, ya
You and me, you and me!  Hooray!

Okay, now that you have the gist of the play, let's talk about the casting and practices. In  May, my school had their own speech contest for 3rd-6th graders. Being the only native English speaker I had to judge the three day after school event. Anyone who knows me knows how sensitive I can be. Well, I was beaming like a proud mama while my other co's sat with their stern, serious faces. I cringed and held back tears for the kids that were obviously pushed into the contest by their parents, and lacked all confidence in their abilities.

Their ending pose :)
They were fidgeting, sweating and holding back embarrassed tears of their own. I made it to the last day without tears. And then one of the sweetest sixth grade boys walked in all dressed up. He handed us his full paged English script and began. He made it through about a sentence before what little confidence he had escaped him. I spent the rest of the time feeding him his lines one word at a time, and then when he teared up, I lost it. We were both sweaty (bc there is no AC) and wiping the endless streams of tears that were running down our cheeks.

It took me back to my own speech failures. I relived 7th grade speech and drama class where I had to perform a 5 min skit on my own in front of the class. I didn't eat for like three days prior. I started crying in the middle of it because of my nerves and tried to play it off like it was part of the skit (which no one bought). But we've all been there, and bless his little heart I wanted to show as much compassion and support as I could. However, looking back, I'm sure he was like, "What the heck is wrong with Sarah Teacher? I'm the one messing up here..."

One of our many practices
Ok, anyways, so it was from this pool of participants that we casted our five member play. We had two fourth graders, He Young and Seung Min, two fifth graders, In Ah and Seo Jeong, and one sixth grader Chae Eun. Our practices started May 27th and everyday after school, we spent TWO HOURS rehearsing this five min play. Oh, ya, I not only wrote it but I had to DIRECT it as well. Not my forte but the kids were good sports with me constantly changing my mind. 

My biggest complaint was that other teachers from my school would just wander in, knowing nothing of the plot because it's all in English, and began correcting my students' actions and offering their opinions. The student's were given so many different directions from different people that I could feel their frustration. But in Korean society, the older the person, the more their opinion matters. I had to play the "foreigner card" and wave everyone off. The student's were getting nothing but criticism from people that DIDN'T SPEAK ENGLISH! I really had to hold in my emotions (and vent to Andrew later).

I didn't realize that every elementary school in Pohang would be competing in the June 27th event. Belle told me that last year they did horrible and the other schools were amazing. She said other schools had students that spoke perfect English and they had awesome costumes. I'm thinking, "Oh great." And the kicker, the Principal is putting a lot of pressure on my two co-teachers to make sure we get a medal. We were competing against 28 OTHER SCHOOLS!

Performance time! -Mi Young and I with our "cast".
Fast forward to June 27th, performance day. We arrived at the auditorium, homemade props in hand and nervous butterflies in our stomachs. I tried my best to give as much confidence to the students as I could because two days earlier one of my co teachers went off on the students about how bad they looked and we wold never win a medal...ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! We were as ready as we were going to get. When it was our turn, I put on my proud mama smile and my over done cheerleader facial expressions and encouraged them all the way! THEY DID AMAZING! I was so proud and they felt so good afterwards which was the best reaction I could have hoped for. Their confidence level was so high and their smiles were so big that all that hard work had paid off. So naturally, we headed to get pizza and celebrate. 

We won't know the results for a couple of weeks so keep your fingers crossed! You can watch their performance below :)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Temple Stay: A Growth in Spiritual Maturity

Posing in our uniforms

I want to warn you; this post holds a lot of personal and spiritual thoughts for me as well as our experiences during our temple stay.

"You shall not bow down to them [idols] or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God..." -Exodus 20:5

This is the verse that has been occupying my mind for the last week. When we were in Korea the first time, I was really interested in participating in a Buddhist overnight Temple Stay, however, we just never got around to it. Around 23 percent of the Korean population classifies themselves as Buddhist; and we are exposed to Buddhist symbols and temples everyday. I even have several co-teachers who practice buddhism. So I thought it was an important cultural experience to participate in to gain a better understanding of the people and culture around us.

Being a strong Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ, I was torn on whether or not I should participate in the rituals at the temple. Bowing down or worshipping idols is a sin. In this case, Buddha is an idol and I know that bowing is part of the experience, so I was really apprehensive.  An idol is something that we ascribe value and worth to that would surpass the value and worth we should be giving to God. It isn't just bowing down in a physical sense but  elevating something above God.

After praying about it, I realized that the God I worship is an invisible God. The Holy Spirit is always with me and I am given an opportunity to take this Buddhist meditation time as my own private reflection with Jesus. I began to feel empowered and excited that this 24 hours would give me the opportunity to reflect and continue to build my personal relationship with God. on the temple stay!
Belle and Juan-Hee

I ran across this particular temple on the internet about a month ago.  Golgulsa Home of Sunmudo is located in Gyeongju City, about 45 min from where we live. I had invited my co-teacher, Belle, and her boyfriend, Juan-Hee, to join us and we were so excited when they agreed. So at about 4pm on Thursday we drove to the temple.

We arrived just before five, checked in and then went to our rooms to put on our temple stay uniform. A lovely faded mustard yellow vest and huge gray pants. First on our agenda was dinner. Now, I had read somewhere that they have a dinner ceremony where everyone HAS to finish every last bite on their plate, clean their plate with a water and radish and then eat the radish. Andrew and I were a bit terrified of this. But when we walked into the dining hall, we found out that that only happens on Saturday and Sundays. But we were to STILL eat every last drop of food that we took. Needless to say, we both didn't take very much in fear that we wouldn't be able to finish. The boys had to sit on one side of the dining hall, and Belle and I sat on the other. It was a very salty vegetarian meal of rice, cucumbers, bean sprouts and soup. We were both able to finish and ready for the next activity!
Rice, cucumber, tofu, soup

Orientation began promptly at 6:30pm and lasted about 30 min. We were briefed in English on Buddhism, bowing techniques and Sunmudo. I found the history of Buddha fascinating with similar teachings by Jesus of contentment, love and compassion towards others. The bowing was the quickest demonstration I had ever seen. She did it once and then we had to do it on our own...I was terrible, but it was an interesting learning experience.

The biggest differentiator of Golgulsa to any other Korean temple is this focus on Sunmudo, an ancient form of "meditative martial arts." It originated during the Shilla Dynasty, 57 B.C - 935 A.D. In Korean history, monks were often soldiers and called to lead people both spiritually and protect them temporarily. In the early 1990's the grandmaster established that Golgulsa would be the world headquarters for Sunmudo and wanted to introduce this art form to the public to ensure it's survival.

So after our orientation, we had evening chanting and meditation for 30 min and then we started our Sunmudo training. It was explained to us that because of the circumstance of this temple, being so heavily focused on Sunmudo, both monks and Sunmudo masters lived here together. The master that gave us our lesson was not a monk. It lasted an exhausting hour and a half. The moves were very slow and involved a lot of muscle strength and control. I got stuck in the second row, and therefore often corrected by the that was a bit embarrassing. We all had a good time and definitely had an experience we will never forget. We ended the training with 10 min of meditation before we walked back to our rooms for the night.

Belle and I stayed in one room while Andrew and Juan-Hee were in the next as men and women cannot share rooms at the temple. The rooms were better than expected. I figured we had to sleep in one giant open room, on the floor, with all the other temple stay participants. We did sleep on the floor, but it was nice that there wasn't a bunch of us in there. Well, a bunch of people I should say. This place had no shortage of HUGE grasshoppers, centipedes, and cockroaches. ...Did I mention we slept on the floor?! I'm sure I had a few "friends" in my bed throughout the night. Lights were out at 10pm as we had an early morning. At 4am we were to wake-up and hike the mountain at a steep vertical angle to the top for morning chanting and bowing.
Our room

4am came early and we began our accent to the top. I was out of breath with shaky legs from the Sunmudo training seven hours previously so the walk up was not fun. We we arrived, there were only a few floor cushions left, so again, I was in the front row! Super awkward as I had no idea what was going on. It looked very different than the chanting the night before. At the front of this small temple was a statue of Buddha. My fear had been realized. I was on my knees at the foot of an idol. At the orientation the night before, it was explained that bowing at a temple was a sign of respect, much like we do on the streets to elder Koreans as we say hello. It wasn't just bowing down to Buddha. So during the 30 minute chanting service as I fought to stay awake, I decided to just soak in the whole experience. At 5am, the Sunmudo master from the night before led us in our 30 min silent meditation. At this point, my back
4:30am morning chanting session
was so uncomfortable I no longer had to fight to stay awake. 

I began to use this time to really focus on God. The serene environment was the perfect place to meditate on my own saviors greatness and all he has done for the world and me. For by his grace, I was given the opportunity to be in this place at this exact moment thinking these exact thoughts of gratitude. Even though I was surrounded by lotus lanterns, Buddhist paintings and statues, and monks, I just asked God to fill me with the Holy Spirit once again. I was at peace with being in this place, and participating in these rituals because my heart belongs to Jesus and there was no fear of infiltration. I humbly asked him for a fresh supply of grace to reignite my heart's affection towards him. It was such a peaceful moment.
Walking meditation

After the 30 min sitting meditation, we followed the master in a very slow, 30 min walking meditation down the mountain. In a single file line, we walked in silence. Listening to the calmness of the morning, smelling the fresh air and listening to the songs of the birds; it was a  peaceful, leg-shaking walk. When we finished walking, we stood in a circle as he led us in some morning stretching. We then ate breakfast (the exact same meal as the night before) and then went back to our rooms for an hour before the next activity. 

At 8:30am, we had another hour and a half of Sumudo training. I was not ready. Actually I was scared, and I wanted to make sure we got their early so I was not stuck in the front again! However, to our surprise, this training was much softer. We ended up doing Zen yoga the entire time. It was relaxing, comical, and calming all at the same time. When the yoga ended, we had a 30 minute break before we had the opportunity to bow 108 times or not. We decided to opt out and hike once again, to the top of the mountain to rest and get good seats for the Sunmudo demonstration. 

At 11am, the demonstration began. I was a little disappointed because their normal performers were out of the country performing so we had a really watered down version. However, it didn't take away from the incredible strength these men had. We were blown away by some of their moves! We ate lunch at 11:30 (again, the EXACT same meal as the
 two previous) then we collected our stuff to check out!

Overall, it was a fantastic experience. To get to participate in rituals so ancient, as a non-believer was something that I consider a privilege. The simplicity at which these people live and enjoy life is inspirational. My fear of idolatry was just, but once I dug a little deeper, and prayed about it, God used this opportunity to draw me closer to him.

A Korean experience not to be missed!

"The road to a mountain always leads to a temple;
The road to the temple eventually merges with the road to nature.
Leave all worldly sufferings behind,
Let the nature breathe into you.
Reflect on yourself;
'Tis the time for meditation and moderation.
It is a healing process invoked by seeing yourself, bared in the midst of nature and made aware to every passing moment."

Belle's favorite Sunmudo pose
Gulgolsa Temple Stay  

At 8:30am Sunmundo training

Our group posing

Sunmundo master and his bamboo stick....