I´ve been rather busy the last couple of weeks. Time is passing by super quickly. I´ll only be in Korea for 10 (!!) more days.Can´t believe it. As the semester is coming to an end, I´ve got lots of group presentations and finals. Nevertheless, I´m still doing lots of fun things in order to use the remaining time effectively.
I visited Japan in two weeks ago. It was a fantastic trip. I decided to visit Osaka, Nara and Kyoto, as I´m interested in the traditional Japan and had to make a decision between eiter going to Tokyo or Kyoto. Flying to Japan is relatively cheap and very close. It takes 1.5 hours to fly to Osaka.
Osaka is a modern city which is famous for it´s great food. Not only is the food great, but so is the city itself. Here one can experience the “real” Japan and witness what Japanese people are up to in their everyday life. Osaka is a mix of modernity and tradition, like most of Japan. Osaka castle is the main attraction, and really forth a visit.
Next stop was Nara, which is very close to Osaka. Nara is known for having the largest Buddha statue and for it´s semi-wild deer that walk around the city center. Beautiful temples everywhere, Nara is basically a museum! Is stayed at a traditional Japanese house, thankfully I did not have to sleep on the floor. Neither sleeping nor sitting on the floor is very comfortable in my opinion.
Last but certainly not least on my trip was Kyoto. Kyoto is amazing. If you haven´t been there you have not seen Japan. There is such much (not exaggerating here) to see. Getting around with the buses is very convenient and I was able to see the most important sights in a rather short time. Even just walking around Kyoto is interesting as you will always come across a temple of palace of some sort! Kyoto is super crowded with tourists. When I was in Japan autumn was at its peak and the leaves looks so beautiful, therefore everybody was there! Even if the tourists sometimes were annoying (yes, I was one myself), one can escape the masses by getting up early and then being able to experience the true spirit of Kyoto.
Overall, the trip was amazing. I was there for 4 nights and was able to see the most important things. I traveled alone, which was no problem at all. Japanese are super polite and helpful. They will help you even if they don´t speak English, perfect when you cannot read anything on the signs. Travelling in Japan is easier than in Korea, as Japan has been exposed to tourists for a very long time and especially Kyoto is super tourist friendly. Since Korea now is my “normal” everyday-life, Japan did not seem that exotic. One thing that I noticed is that Japanese people are way more polite, love western things and are extremely fashionable. The amount of history and tradition is also very impressive. I definitely want to go back to Japan and visit Tokyo and see Mount Fuji. About money, Japan ist not that expensive as expected. Everything a tourist needs is affordable, so students can travel to Japan without any problems.
Even if Japan is beautiful, please combine your trip with a visit to Korea. We may not have so many palaces and temples here as in Japan (THEY DESTROYED OURS REMEMBER), but I think that Korea is very authentic and more exotic. It simply is very close to my heart.
After seeing so many temples in Japan and starting to run short of time, a friend and I decided to do a temple stay. In Korea it is possible to stay at a temple and experience the life of the monks there. Foreigners (non-Buddhists) do it for the cultural experience and Koreans in order to connect more to their religion and to solve their problems.
The temple was small and in the mountain (fantastic view!). Our guide spoke English and showed us around. There were only two guys and the rest women. The women were divided into two groups; one from for the adults and one room for the students. There were other exchange students at the temple stay as well.
We got told about Buddhism, very informative and without forcing us to convert. Then we had to do 108 prostrations, which was rather tiring and felt more like sport than meditating or praying. We had dinner at 5, really early but made sense when we were told that we had to get um at 4:30 in the morning (reminded me of the time that I was volunteering in hospital). After the prostrations, we had some free time. Later we met for the evening prayer, where everybody had to ring the bell and we did some meditation. Meditation is something that I have never been able to do, instead of thinking of “nothing”, I think about how my legs hurt from sitting in this uncomfortable position or how boring it is to just sit there with your eyes closed. Afterwards we made some bracelets and went to bed early.
Getting up at 4:30 was a slight pain, but doable. We did the morning prayer, it was rather difficult not to fall asleep for some people. Then to our surprise we would go an have some “rest”, we all slept until breakfast. For breakfast we had rice, which I can actually eat without complaint after being in Korea for about 4 months. The monk showed us how to eat and how to clean our bowls. This was rather complicated, as there is a specific ceremony. We had to clean our bowls with water and then drink the water, at first disgusting but Buddhism teaches us that we just think that it is disgusting but actually it is´t (aha).
We then had to clean our room and went for a short hike. The view was really nice and we meditated whilst looking over Seoul. t was quite cold so we didn´t stay to long. After walking back to the temple we had a traditional tea ceremony. We were allowed to ask the monk anything. He was really nice and answered all our questions. I was surprised that monks may have a family and that Buddhism is not against technology (THERE WAS A BEAMER IN THE TEMPLE).
Overall, the temple stay was a very good experience and made me understand Korean culture more. I did not find enlightenment or so, but I felt quite relaxed after the temple stay. If you are interested in Korean culture a temple stay is really good, as you gain insights about Korean Buddhism.
Today, I had my last lecture, Which feels very weird, but at the same time really good, as I can´t wait for university to be over with. At the end of the semester there is always so much to do, that you simply just want a break. Even if I am happy that I just have to write 3 more exams (I have 5 in total by the way) and I look forward to seeing my friends and family back home, I am very sad to leave Korea, as I´ve met great people and experiences so memorable things here.Before going back to Germany, I´ll go to the DMZ (border between Korean and North Korea), visit the opera and ballet and see all my favorite places in Seoul one last time.
10 more days to go…
Have a great Advent season, as Christmas is basically non-existent in Korea!