My Dragon-Turtle Teapot

My Dragon-Turtle Teapot

My teapot and the fan I painted.
My teapot and the fan I painted when visiting the museum.

Here is the story of my teapot. JB said “wow, look at this amazing dragon teapot” and then he set it down. We were at the Korean potter’s studio and I decided as soon as I saw it and realized that John had put it down that I would buy it – if I had enough money! I did! And let me tell you – I am over the moon that I did! I just love my teapot!

12th Century Goreo Dynasty tortoise shape ewer.
12th Century Goreo Dynasty tortoise shape ewer, in the Korean National Museum.

The next time I saw “my teapot” we were in the Korean National Museum and an amazingly close facsimile was on display. It was a twelfth century Korean Goreo Dynasty piece of celadon stone wear water ewer – shaped like a tortoise sitting on a lotus flower. When I bought my pot I had no idea it was a replica of Goreo Dynasy stoneware! It just really spoke to me and when you hear what I have found out about the meaning of the symbolism represented in it, you might be as blown away by the significance of it as am I.

Closed and open lotus flowers.
Closed and open lotus flowers in a garden close to Cheonmachong in Gyeongju.

The Lotus flower symbolizes rising from suffering into enlightenment and freedom from suffering. This is what the dragon tortoise is seated upon. Notice that the lotus flower is open and not closed, which means that the flower is open to her surroundings and not closed off. The turtle herself is rich in symbolism. She is a universal symbol of birth, life, death and rebirth. I am currently going through a rebirthing process in my life, so the symbolism thus far is very significant to me.

Apparently, the tortoise spirit is a teacher of waiting and of vision. You must have both of these traits in order to be a successful treasure hunter. In other words, you must have an enduring ability to hold the vision of the treasure shown to you in meditation and you must wait with peaceful patience as your dreams transform from vision to physical manifestation.

We did not find my cups here! Just the tea and the knotted decoration.
We did not find my cups here! Just the tea and the knotted decoration.

So now I will tell you about finding the matching cups in Insadong. We were wandering around shopping and looking in all the fun shops and as we wandered I looked at the tea cups in every shop that had them. Not one of the cups that I picked up felt right. I had finally given up and told my friend we did not have to look for cups any more as I was just not feeling it. Maybe I would find them another day. Just when I gave up I found some cups with a vaguely familiar design and I just had to buy those cups. They were the cheapest I had found – five for 12,000 wan, or about 12 bucks. The most expensive I found were $100 a cup which would have amounted to way more than I had paid for the pot! When I got them home and unpacked them, my 12 buck purchase matched perfectly. In fact, the design on the cups is the same as the lotus flower my turtle is sitting upon. This is a silly little story, but I had a vision of what I wanted for cups and I had to be a patient treasure hunter but my patience paid off royally!

The turtle is a patient creature; it’s patience and ability to find peace in the moment has brought the Tortoise a great gift… the gift of a very long, rich and fruitful life. The Tortoise is happy wherever it finds itself, day by day enjoying another facet of it’s discoveries. Moreover, the tortoise makes his home wherever he decides to stop and rest. I am very much like the tortoise these days as I am learning to make make my home wherever I happen to be currently living and laying down my head to rest each night. Tortoise is content and at peace on his journeys. Tortoise symbolism also teaches this: “do not follow the illusions of the oasis that appears instantly before your eyes ~ this is a mirage. Instead, know that patience is the map to experience the outcome of visions and desires. Each of us has abundant treasure that awaits us, but few have the patience to find it”. I pray that I am more and more like the tortoise each and every day!

Did you notice that my tortoise or turtle has the head of a dragon, just like one of the 9 sons of the dragon king? Dragon turtles have a dragon head and a turtle body. The dragon turtle symbolizes longevity, determination, harmony, career success and courage. Rather than being evil as in the West, dragons in Korean folk lore are auspicious, magical creatures with unsurpassed power and vitality. Also, dragons can have yin or yang energy. Yin energy is female and passive energy; a winged dragon symbolizes yin energy.

Notice that my dragon has wings and therefore is a yin dragon. “As with all things yin and yang, the yin dragon’s energy is quite the opposite to that of the yang dragon. Heavily influenced by the planet Venus, the winged yin dragon emits a negative energy charge. This darker, mental type of energy is primarily female in nature. While the yang dragon charges ahead in a frenzy of activity, the energy of the yin dragon is more thoughtful and introspective. It may not present the flash of energy associated with yang, but yin energy is known for its powers of endurance” (retrieved from here).

My teapot is a turtle sitting on a lotus flower and she possesses the head of a winged dragon. She primarily represents yin energy which is appropriate for a tea pot. I sometimes have fierce yang energy, so a lovely spot of tea from a yin pot just might be the appropriate balancing antidote for me! I also love that she sits on an open lotus flower, one that is open to the world around her.

So, won’t you drop by and have a cup of tea with me and sip from an open lotus flower poured from my dragon tortoise shaped ewer? We can rise from our suffering together and perhaps be enlightened as we share in pleasant conversation. We can be thoughtful and introspective together and take a rest from frenzied activity as we enjoy a nice hot cup of green tea. We can also toast each other’s courage and determination and support each other as we share our challenges and successes in quiet conversation. We will encourage each other in our personal visions and dreams as we work patiently to realize them. And lastly, but certainly not least, hopefully we will also share also share together a hearty laugh or two!

I loved this teapot when I first set my eyes on it, and now after my little bit of research and reading, I love her even more! The symbolism is rich and meaningful to me.

The Two Koreas

The Two Koreas

Peninsular Korea is currently in a Cold War. Is reunification possible? The Korean history we were introduced to began in the first century. The unique language and all the music, dance and cultural artifacts and art we have witnessed belongs to all Koreans. Division of the Korean Penninsula did not occur until 1948 when the South Korean government was established in August and the North Korean government established in September of the same year –  post WW2 and the Japanese Colonial period in Korea.

The two Koreas went to war when the first leaders of each of the countries wanted to unite Korea under one leader. A cease fire was declared in 1953 after a bloody three year war; the war has never been ended and they have been living in this “cease fire” state ever since. We watched the movie, JSA, Joint Security Area) which depicts a fictitious story of men from North and South Korea who secretly become friends at the extremely sensitive 38th parallel where the division of the two Korea’s was demarcated back in 1945. It is worth watching to consider the human element of the division of Korea into two Korea’s.

We also heard from a North Korean defector regarding his escape from North Korea and his new life here in South Korea. Life under dictator Kim is tightly controlled, though Korean dramas seem to be easily smuggled into the country. When we watched the film “On the Border”, it became abundantly clear that defectors often have to escape separately from family members and the hope of reuniting with family members may never be realized. One Korean I spoke to describes North Korea as living in hell. You can understand the desire to escape and also feel the anguish of separation from loved ones.

On our field trip today we visited an infiltration tunnel that was discovered in 1975. It’s size and length suggest that 2,000 soldiers per hour would have been able to cross from North to South Korea. Five of them in total have been discovered. Today, tourists can visit some of them as well as the JSA in the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). The name belies the truth that this buffer zone on either side of the MDL ( Militry Demarcation Line) is heavily guarded by a million North Korean and another million South Korean’s on either side of the MDL. Within this no-man’s land, completely uninhabitable by humans, is an involuntary park, teeming with life and rare and endangered species. Eleven of the 15 species of cranes in the world reportedly spend time in this park including the White Crane and the Red-Crowned Crane.

Here is a short video I created from a couple of video clips taken when we visited Infiltration Tunnel Number 2.

Hanbok, Traditional Music and Dance

Hanbok, Traditional Music and Dance

The traditional bride in Korea wears a stunning outfit.  I will show you several pictures of the detailed dressing process and the finished product.  I will treat you to some of the beautiful music I recorded once I upload my videos and you can also see us struggle to learn the dance moves of one traditional Korean dance.  We had a lot of fun these past few days experiencing these fun activities.

Check out some clips of traditional music on this video.  Here is traditional Korean Pansori.

Note: Some of the photos in this post are taken by BIP staff (*).

Tourism in Korea

Tourism in Korea

Sunset on the Han river.
Sunset on the Han river.

 

Last night we cruised the Han River. Ten to  20 years ago this river was very polluted but the government put lots of money into rehabilitating it and now fish that were thought to be extinct have returned. For about 8 miles on either side of the river you will find cycling trails, pools, parks, several viewing stadiums and recreational areas.

imageKorea hosts over a million visitors each year.  All around, preparations for the next Olympic’s in Korea seem to be underway. Pyeongchang will host the next winter Olymics in 2018.  In 1988 the Summer Olympics were hosted in Seoul; this was the beginning of South Korea coming out to the rest of the world.  Except for a decline in the early 90’s, South Korea’s economy has done nothing but grow in the last three decades.  From the early 60’s till the early 80’s, within one generation, S Korea went from a receiver of support from the OCD to a contributor.  She is the first country to have ever achieved this accomplishment.

Shopping in Myeong-dong.
Shopping in Myeong-dong.

Seoul has a very cosmopolitan flair.  Both Gangnam and Myeong-dong have fabulous shopping and interesting tastes to try.  Myeong-dong is listed as the ninth most expensive shopping streets in the world and Gangnam hosts the second highest concentration of plastic surgeons in Seoul. Korea also has relatively inexpensive medical services which makes medical tourism a strong draw to Korea.

Tourist information booth.
Tourist information booth.

There are tourist information booths at all of the cultural sites we have visited thus far with informative brochures available. Gyeonju, a city with at least 2000 years of history, is indeed a ” museum without walls”.  When we were there last week, our tour guide was professional, informative and very interesting. To be a guide in Korea, she needed to pass the national exam which contains questions on history, geography, culture and other important information. Any questions I or the others asked were readily answered. Do not miss Seoul tower to experience a fabulous interpretive Center of all the cultural and natural amenities Seoul has to offer.

Map of ancient Han over modern Korea.
Map of ancient Han over modern Korea.

Getting around Seoul, where half the population of SouthKorea lives, is easy.  One can use a downloadable interactive subway map to get around Seoul or onto trains that leave Seoul to other parts of Korea. I have seen hikers get onto the subway late on a Sunday evening, obviously returning home from a day of hiking, which can be reached at the end of many subway line.  Seoul is surrounded by a range of mountains, which in days of old acted as a natural defence to the city along with the wall that surrounded it.  Today, you can camp and hike in the mountains and in the winter take your skis or snowboard up to enjoy the snow and the view.

In one of our history lessons the visiting professor showed us a map of the extensive hiking trail system all along the mountain range that runs from the north end to the south end of Korea with the ability to visit Shaman’s and Buddhist temples along the way. Up in the mountains is where temples are built.  We visited two of the eleven world Unesco Heritage sites in the Republic of Korea. The Korean’s are proud of their rich cultural heritage as well as their current pop culture or K-pop, also known as the the hallyu wave. Even at the traditional folk village, there was one gift shop dedicated to current K-pop artists like Exo along with memorabilia and DVD’s of popular Korean dramas. Cookin’ Nanta was a great example of current fusion which takes the traditional Samul Nori folk music and makes it into fresh current sounds.

 

South of the Han River

South of the Han River

The view from my bedroom.
The view from my bedroom.

This morning I am writing my post up in one of Xi towers at the home of my “home stay family” with Jee Hyan.  Yesterday we shopped in Gangnam. We visited the second largest bookstore in Seoul, shopped around Gangnam station and dined at an Itallian-Japanese  Fusion restaurant.  Last night, after a lovely meal with my host family, we went down to the Han river to watch the fireworks.  It is very easy to get around Seoul; you can get anywhere in an hour it seems.  Han Joon, Jee Hyun’s brother, just finished vet school is now serving his three years in military service.  Her father, Jinwoo, was just promoted to Director of the hospital and is a gracious host along with his wife, Moon He.  Their apartment is lovely and comfortable.  I am enjoying their warm and gracious hospitality. Their Yorkie, Pepper, is fun to play with!

Religion in Korea

Religion in Korea

Yesterday, we studied the major religions of Korea. The most prevalent religion in Korea today is Christianity with 35 percent claiming it as their religion. Usually in developed, industrialized countries participation in religion declines. Not so in Korea. The number claiming to have no religion has dropped by approximately 10 percent with a 9 percent lift in those claiming Christianity as their religion and a lift of 3 percent claiming Buddhism as their religion over the last 30 years. The other religions which currently have less than 1 percent of the population claiming to practice are Shamanism and Confucian.

Prevalent sight in Korea.
Prevalent sight in Korea.

As I learned about these religions previously practiced in Korea, particularly Shamanism and Confucianism I wondered if beliefs held in these religions laid the groundwork for Christianity being accepted and practiced here. The first Christian denomination to grow in Korea was Catholicism. This denomination of Christianity contains more ritual than most other Christian denominations. Koreans were familiar with ritual due to the practice of Confucianism, which is largely a system of ethical relationships and responsibilities.

Although not practiced, or at least openly practiced, you will also still see vestiges of shamanism in Korea. Shamans communicate with spirits to resolve problems among the living. Also, according to one lecturer, shamans still exist in Korea, though the practice of shamanism was illegal for a period of time. It is now legalized but still not widely accepted. Currently, shamans sometimes operate in temples up in the mountains with a Buddhist temple front. According to one film we watched, there are also public spaces Shamans can rent to perform rituals for their clients. Shamans are over taken or possessed by “ancestral” spirits when they perform their rituals and sometimes this involves animal sacrifices.

Buddhism is, according to the statistics presented to us, is the second largest religion in Korea (20 percent) but very few of the adherents of this religion would consider it very important to them. One of the key words or concepts in Buddhism is suffering. Those practicing Buddhism are encouraged to explore suffering, attractions, aversions of self and ultimately try to demolish self in the path of seeking enlightenment. Ethical conduct, mindfulness and self restraint aid one along this path. Followers of Buddha try to develop compassion, self restraint and gentleness. Buddhist never really stop studying the “suffering of oneself and that of other people” (http://www.homeoint.org/morrell/buddhism/suffering.htm).

Suffering Christ.
Suffering Christ.

Koreans were also familiar with concepts of suffering and sacrifice through Buddhism and Shamanism. Both of these themes are central to Christianity as well. A central theme of Buddhism is suffering, and within the Catholic tradition, the suffering of Christ is especially focused on in the weeks leading up to Easter. Easter is the celebration of Jesus, the Christ, rising from the dead and ascending back into heaven. Three days prior to this, Jesus had been sacrificed. Koreans were familiar with sacrifice with the ritualistic sacrifice of animals by the shaman, while possessed by the “ancestral” spirits. There is no need for animal sacrifices in Christianity, however, as Jesus, the one who suffered on the cross, was the ultimate sacrifice himself. Christians, however will offer up their lives to God and become a “living sacrifice”, which likely accounts for why most Christians, at least when polled in Korea, would have said that their faith/religion was somewhat to very important to them. A very small percentage of Buddhist said the same thing when polled. Christians might experience suffering as a key aspect of their religion/faith especially in countries where Christianity is illegal, so Christianity and Buddhism both share the concept of suffering in some ways.

There was a familiarity with spirits and the spirit world in Korea due to the centrality of spirits being beckoned to help in the problems of the living through the work of the Shaman on her client’s behalf.

There is also belief in the spirit world in Christianity. There are many spirits including the Holy Spirit, which Jesus called “the comforter”. Jesus said he would send the comforter to his disciples once he ascended back to God in the heavenly realm. In shamanism, the shaman is possessed by the spirits. In Christianity, people who want to become “Christian” will invite the Holy Spirit/Jesus/God into their heart and be “possessed” by God as it were. The Holy Spirit living and abiding in the Christian is what is promised to provide joy and a “peace that passes understanding” amidst circumstances that normally produce suffering. A Christian receives peace and a place in heaven with God in the afterlife through the act of inviting the spirit of God to dwell in them (asking Jesus into their heart). There is a possession by the holy spirit in Christian believers while in Shamanism just the Shaman becomes possessed by spirits. A Buddhist does not talk about spirits or the spirit world, but rather seeks enlightenment through practices such as mindfulness, self-restraint and gentleness. There is an afterlife in Buddhism, but that comes through reincarnation.

imageChristianity was brought to Korea by a Korean who visited China and came to know Christ through a Catholic priest he met there. This Korean man brought Christianity back to his own country and began sharing the gospel with his country men. Christianity, therefore, was not brought to Korea by missionaries. Today almost 1/3 of all South Koreans claim Christianity as their own imagereligion and the vast majority of them consider their religion to be either very important or somewhat important to them.  Practicing of the faith to which you adhere seems to be an important aspect of people’s lifestyle in Korea today.

Korean Culinary Delights

Korean Culinary Delights

Many bowls, many flavours, fresh and delicious.  These features come to mind when I think of food here in Korea.  There is rice and soup available at every meal not to mention kimchi, chopsticks and spoons.  There are over 100 varieties of kimchi.  Women used to make it in their back yards and preserve it in crockery while now you can order it on homeshopping network and likely have a special fridge for kimchi.  There are over 100 varieties; it is a great antioxident.  Also, if you observe carefully, the five primary colours of Korean food are also likely present somewhere in the bowls of food: yellow, white, green, red and black.  Often the pottery bowls will feature blue paint.  The pottery and nuts are decorative embellishments to make the food look even more delicious.  Bibimpap is a healthy traditional mix of vegetables, noodles, sauce and rice often served at lunch.  It can come with or without meat.  We have eaten green tea shortbread cookies and ice flake… with red bean paste and with mango.  The snacks here are different than what we have back at home and fun to try.

Go Bears Go!

Go Bears Go!

At the Main Gate.
At the Main Gate.

A group of us went to the ball game tonight.  It was the Bears against the Twins.  We cheered for Haley’s team, the Bears.  Each player had a walk up song and the fans cheered and sang along to each tune as the player went up to bat.  It was lots of fun! The game went into extra innings.  The Bears lost to the Twins at the bottom of the 10th with a score of 3-2.  We watched the last two innings on David’s phone on the subway home so we would make curfew.  He has unlimited data, like we can get unlimited calling… so we could do that!

Post note:  Here is a fun tidbit… Did you know that the bottom ranking team fans often have the face of Buddha superimposed/photoshopped over their face.  We are learning about religions of Korea this morning and the key word of that religion is suffering.  Hahah… They suffer with a serene smile on their face!!  Check out this video for the sound effects at the game.

Seokguran in Gyeongju

Seokguran in Gyeongju

We climbed many stairs today with the ultimate goal of seeing Seokguram Bonjonbul.  This is a UNESCO World Heritage site and we saw many national treasures today. It is known as one of the most brilliant pieces of cultural heritage.  This incredibly large buddha, created in white granite was being restored when we viewed it, so we did not see it properly, but it was impressive none the less. No pictures please! (Of Buddha himself that is).

We also saw the grotto, the three story stone pagoda and enjoyed the peaceful stroll to the top of the mountain.  Such a peaceful morning!

 

 

 

 

 

Visit to the Folk Village

Visit to the Folk Village

Today we visited a traditional Korean folk village.  It is a Cultural Theme park and it does a great job of portraying life as it might have been back during the Joseon Dynasty.