Tag Archives: Seollal

Quiet Endings and Lunar New Year

24 Jan

Well, this is the last week of Book Club at Gyeonggi English Village. After today, the weekday reading classes for young Korean students will be no more.  The program will continue for our Saturday students, but this is the last day we will see our familiar itty-bitty weekday faces.

I have been teaching in the Book Club for just a few months.  While working with young children requires a lot of hands on attention and can sometimes be challenging, I am really glad that I did it.  Even in their most ornery moments, the youngest students have an innocence about them that can’t be replaced.

We had a little party celebrating our last days of Book Club.  We ate food, played some games and then parted with a simple good-bye present.  When it comes to that moment when it is time to say good-bye I often am met with an unexpected surge of emotion.  This time was no different. One of my littlest students left after her last class and then turned around and came back knocking at the door only to say when I let her in, “I’ll miss you!”  Very sweet.

It’s been a good experience working with book club.  It is different from other camp-like programs at English Village. The parents bring their young students to class and then wait for them to be finished.  This gives us an opportunity to interact with them, often about their children or simple questions about the program and learning English.  Many parents are generous and bring treats to the teachers before class ranging from fresh fruit to teas and coffees.

The Saturday program will continue on – a simple day of morning classes and then an afternoon of reading books to visiting students. Last week when reading a story to some of our young afternoon visitors, I had a bit of a reality check.  The story was called Click, Clack Moo:Cows that Type.  A cute story if you’re inclined to check it out.  Often while reading a word or two comes up that needs to be explained in the simplest of English.  In the midst of reading I thought, “Oh no!  They probably don’t even know what a typewriter is!”

Now mind you, I remember the typewriter well. I learned to type on one in high school.  I still remember the feel of clicking the keys and then hitting the lever to make the carriage return.  It was a bit of a shock to notice this familiar but antiquated machinery was like a dinosaur to them.

When it came time to explain, the older brother of the group made it easy for me.  As I pointed to it and asked who knew what a typewriter was, he simply stated, “It is an old computer.”  Sure!  That will work.  An old computer, indeed.

As this week comes to a close we are preparing for a little break at English Village.  Next weekend is the lunar new year, a big holiday in South Korea. Koreans  typically spend the holiday with friends and family leaving city streets quiet and desolate.   The holiday itself is this Thursday and Friday, but English Village teachers are off for the week.

I’m grateful for the break before returning to a different schedule of teaching.  Upon return I will continue to teach the little ones their Saturday classes, continue working the weekend and then teach our Middle School camp-like programs a few days during the week.

It is a quiet day with grey skies as we slowly slip into the weekend.  The last day of book-club has fizzled away with just a Saturday’s work before the long break.  A quiet winter good-bye for now!  And feel free to write… it’s always good to hear from you!

My Serene Seollal Celebration

10 Feb

It’s Sunday.  Just an ordinary day for most Americans.  But for Korea it is the celebration of the Lunar New Year called Seollal.  I can’t say that I really know that much about it.  I know it is an important holiday for Koreans and that traditionally people travel to be with their families and prepare and eat traditional foods.  I have heard that Seoul is a ghost town during Seollal since so many people depart to go be with their families.

According to Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_New_Year), the Korean New Year is traditionally celebrated by eating Tteokguk , a soup with sliced rice cakes. It says the Korean New Year is similar to a birthday for Koreans, and eating tteokguk is part of the birthday celebration. Once you finish eating your tteokguk, you are one year older.  But for me, mostly, it’s just another day.

I went to Seoul yesterday for a meeting with my SGI Buddhist group.  It was great!  The chapter I participate in is a small group of mostly foreigners (remember, that’s me!) but also a few Korean folks too.  We had a study group together yesterday and then a potluck to celebrate the New Year.  I brought a fresh spinach dip to the celebration.  Here is the recipe if you’re curious.  I used soy sauce instead of the Worcestershire sauce and didn’t use any mayonnaise.  Next time I think I’ll use greek yogurt instead of sour cream.  At any rate, it was a hit and it was a nice gathering among friends new to me.

After the meeting the leaders of the SGI group traveled with me back to Paju to “enshrine” my Gohonzon.  For those of you not familiar with SGI Buddhism, the Gohonzon is a scroll with Sanscrit writing and is the object of devotion in the practice.  I received my Gohonzon when I became a member of SGI two years ago, but as I have been traveling for most of the past two years, it is just now that I am a little more “settled” and I am able have and use and practice with my Gohonzon again.

It was fun for me to lead them from Seoul to my new “home” in Paju.  They had no idea what to expect from English Village.  They were tickled and delighted to discover English Village is like a small theme park, complete with a giant mock Stonehenge at the entrance!  “So you live in there?”  they asked referring to behind the gates entering English Village.  “Yep” I said.  Not your typical Korean abode! They were like kids in a candy store as we entered through the gates and I began to lead them through the campus to my room.

They were generous in their description of my little “home” in English Village.  “It’s cute”  they said.  “So cozy” and “It’s like a little hotel room.”  All little affirmations that were nice to hear and in fact, for me it is cozy!  We spent a little time together in my room, hung my Gohonzon in its new cabinet and did a little chanting together.  It was really sweet for me to have them all there and to spend that time together.

As it is the New Years holiday, we have fives days vacation this week at English Village.  This is time that many staff use to travel to near-by (and not so near-by) destinations – Thailand, Japan.  As I am a recent arrival I was not yet prepared to take a trip but look forward to having a nice low-key week and doing a little sightseeing in Seoul.

I am not alone in my New Years respite at English Village.  We have a staff potluck/New Years celebration tomorrow night and it will be fun to share food and time together in the midst of the slow-paced holiday break.

And today, the day of  Korea’s New Years celebration, I find I have time to rest, relax and have time with myself.  I have indulged in a little on-line video streaming, plucked around on the internet, as well as my typical respite of Reiki and yoga.

A fresh coat of snow in last week... about a foot.  Not a Blizzard or anything... just regular winter life in Paju South Korea.

A fresh thick coat of snow last week.  It wasn’t a blizzard or anything – just regular winter life in Paju South Korea.

I was told not too long ago by a young Korean man I met on the subway (who was excited to see a “foreigner” so he could practice his English)  that according to Korean tradition, I am 44 years old.  Now I don’t know exactly how that works… but somehow in that process I gained two years! (I am 42 in American years)  And so it is.

The sun is starting to set and the quiet evening is making itself known.  It is so peaceful here right now that the only sound I can here is the hum of my heater blowing overhead.  We remain cold  here with a hearty blanket of snow on the ground unwilling yet to go away.  And so, this is the context and the landscape of my Korean New Year.  My only question is… with this New Year, am I now 45?

Top Photo:  Toto, we’re not in Korea anymore!  Stonehenge?  The unexpected welcome at the entrance to Gyeonggi English Village in Paju City, South Korea.