Sunday, April 30, 2006
Buddha Bing, Buddha Bang!
Wow, what a day! Buddha's believers sure know how to throw one hell of a birthday celebration.
We took the subway into Seoul on Sunday in order to help celebrate the festivities. It was amazing, like nothing any of us had ever seen before. We strolled through Insadong, all the while marveling at the number of foreigners we saw and, unfortunately, heard (it's so bizarre how accustomed you get to not understanding a word you hear around you - you start to enjoy not knowing what is being said - then you see the foreigners, and you hear the irritating, inane snippets of conversations that you are not involved in. Yet because you can understand it, you find yourself listening and becoming bothered by the lack of thought people put into their spoken word. "So, like, I couldn't decide whether I wanted a double grande iced mocha frappuccino or the tall cinnamon streusel latte... soooo... I like, got both!" It's enough to make you wish you were deaf).
Anyway, it was the celebratory Sunday preceding Buddha's birthday (his official birthday is Friday), and the streets of Seoul were papered with hanging lanterns and revelers of all persuasions (with the exception of my super-Christian boss and her children, one of whom has told us that he didn't like Buddha because "he was the enemy of Jesus"). At any rate, the day was a fantastic adventure. We strolled through Insadong (a pedestrianized street on Sundays, teeming with art shops, tea houses, souvenir stores, and buskers playing Korean folk music on the accordion, of all things!!), eventually winding our way to Jogyesa temple (the focal point of the celebrations, and where the majority of the lanterns were hung). The Lotus Lantern Parade was by far the highlight, though. The floats were spectacular - elephants, peacocks, dragons breathing fire (and threatening to destroy the paper floats in front of it), the folk dancers and drummers. And the people... Buddhist monks and nuns with shaved heads and cell phones, the half dozen old women sitting side by side on the street curb, clapping along to the modern Korean pop being performed by the brazen diva on the makeshift stage, the unfamiliar rhythms and pentatonic melodies carried out on the drums and flutes, and all the while the glowing lanterns bobbed through the dusk and into the night. It was beautiful.