Just in case you're wondering why I'm starting with Day Two, look back a few entries. I did talk about our arrival in Seoul and our meeting with consultant Kyeong Kang and dinner in the hotel lobby bar.
We awoke the next day anticipating our first meeting with another consultant at 11am, but we had time to stroll over to the nearby Buddhist temple and take a look around. Though we were on our way to something quite old, we were struck by the newness of our immediate surroundings. We are staying in the "New Seoul," south of the river. "Old Seoul" is everything to the north, something we didn't get to see until our (originally) last day in Seoul. Note to the right the two lanes of crosswalk; there are arrows on either side indicating to walkers which lane to use so that people aren't crashing into each other as they lurch to the other side before the light changes. Not rocket science, but we in the U.S. don't seem to have figured this out yet...
Across the street and into the temple. What an oasis of beauty, simplicity and quiet in the midst of a big, noisy city! All we could hear were chants and bells in a variety of buildings, each of which seemed assigned to a particular kind of prayer. The outside spaces were garnered with rafts of white paper lanterns and traditional Korean statues and sculptures. Of course the highlight of the temple is the interior and exterior painting of the buildings themselves - intricate and colorful representation of Buddha's teachings and meaning. Here are a few highlights:
I was particularly struck by the contrast of temple roof lines against the backdrop of modern skyscrapers. Andy loved the chanting and is wanting to find a CD of it all to take home with her. Watch out; we might be found soon in her Bernardston backyard chanting ethereally, taking ourselves into another world of peace and contemplation. Not a bad idea at all!
Dream as we liked, we needed to get back to reality and a meeting at 11 with Christine Kim, another consultant. She brought with her a young 6th grader interested in SBS for a year from now, a delightful girl called Amy but named Moon Jung (and who was excited to hear that we had another Moon Jung already at school). Amy's mother was not feeling well and needed to head to the doctor's office so she stayed with us and Christine for a coffee in the lobby followed by a wonderful lunch. Christine treated us all to a Korean beef meal in a beautiful restaurant where we had our own room. It was our first introduction to Korean food, and we enjoyed it tremendously. We give Amy (as she insisted she liked to be called) a big thumbs up. Any 6th grader who could stay with adults and hold her own in the ways that she did gets a gold star.
The rest of the afternoon was spent catching up with ourselves a bit and doing a few errands in the underground mall attached to the hotel. We had to rest ourselves to get ready for another meal out, this time with our student Jane and her mother. We were really treated like queens, literally, as we were taken to an amazing restaurant of traditional Korean cuisine. As Jane and her mother explained, this is the food that was once served only to queens and kings of Korea. Now it is a special privilege to partake in such a meal. First of all, the ambiance...we were seated at a traditional table low to the floor where our legs were comfortably placed under the table into a "hole" in the floor. And then the food...wow. I have no idea how many courses were placed before us, but it was soon apparent that we could never eat everything set on the table. It was all for tasting, and "waste" is part of the ritual. My Yankee Self was quick to feel bad for whoever was in the back room doing dishes as everything was served to the table on separate plates for us to dip into as we cared to. Soon, however, my sense of guilt was left behind and I was as gluttonous as any king or queen of yore. Here are two of the yummy things we ate. The little pink circle below is actually a radish "taco" used to wrap little vegetables in and eat in one big bite. The preparation alone challenged my chopstick skills sufficiently, but the desire to taste this little delicacy was enough to quicken my proficiency in incremental ways!
Not only did we have one of the best and most interesting meals of our lives, but we also enjoyed entertaining company - including a delightful interpreter that Jane's mother brought along. She's a student at NYU and is tutoring Jane this summer in preparation for Biology next year. We had engaging conversation, lots of laughter, and good old girl fun in a lavish environment. It was particularly interesting to hear about the work of Jane's mother, a real entrepreneur who is very committed to an internet safety project. We are hoping to collaborate with her as a school in an effort to promote a more compatible and safe world.
All in all, what a treat - and something Andy and I will never forget. Here we are fully sated. Gansa Hamnida!