With no concrete plans for a weekend in the fist time in ages, I set out to do what ruby does best. Pick a subway stop or two and explore. On Saturday, I barely made it out of the front door before the first adventure began. There is a particularly seedy looking building in our neighborhood that, although it appears to have a Buddhist temple on top, I was a little hesitant to explore. The building itself is one of the more ranshackle in our area. There is a billiards hall on the second floor, and on my walk home from work, it’s one of the places that always has particularly drunk men loitering around outside.
But since I was in exploring mode, camera in hand, daring wits about me, I decided to brave it past the filthy stairwell to see what it really is.
On the third floor is a beautiful shrine room. Even though part of the reason I came to back to Asia was to re-immerse myself in Buddhist culture, it doesn’t feel like part of everyday life here. Consumerism and an extreme materialism to the point of being disgusting has taken over, leaving the less than a third of the population that still even considers itself Buddhist on a shelf somewhere behind last years’ cellphones. There are still some great cultural holidays, and the occasional monk on the subway, but it doesn’t “feel” like a Buddhist country the way other places I’ve travelled do.
With no one around I did a few prostrations and sat for a few minutes, and then nosed around trying to find the rooftop shrine that I was pretty sure existed. On my way through the door to the rooftop I literally ran into a monk. He was at first shocked, and then pretty happy to see me. He even gave me a zucchini from their rooftop garden. I speak almost no Korean, and he speaks almost no English, but I did glean that he was in the Korean war from pictures he showed me and was quite happy to meet a young American.
We had tea together and a gorgeous little girl full of smiles came in. As far as I could tell, she said the monk is her uncle, and it seems like she almost lives at the temple. I got to thinking how different my life in Korea would be if I had become involved with these people earlier in the year.
The rest of my subway hopping weekend paled in comparison to hanging out with the monk and his niece. Even with such promising names as Imhak, Beagun, and Dong Incheon, it’s a little bit of a disappointment to get off at any subway station and just see more of the same. I know this is going to happen already, but still, there’s usually one little gem that was worth finding. The Mexican restaurant in Songnea for example, or the acupuncturist I want to try again when they are open in Imhak.
After a second day of rambling and going to the grocery store, I was on the final stretch home carrying a bag full of exotic cheeses from Home Plus, when a little tiny hand grabbed my arm. It was the girl from the temple. It appears what I’ve been looking for in Korea has been on my street all along.
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