Happy 2,553rd Birthday, Buddha!

May 22, 2009 at 3:06 pm (Uncategorized)

Although less than a quarter of the population is official Buddhist, Koreans and foreigners alike channeled their inner zen from April 25th to May 5th to celebrate Buddha’s birthday.  The city created a really great website for the event – http://www.llf.or.kr/eng/.  The highlight of the festivities happened on April 26th, when a huge street festival and lantern parade dominated one of the major intersections of downtown Seoul. 

We arrived at Anguk station, near the traditional Korean area of Insadong (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insadong) at about 3pm, and met up with our friends Desirae, Sarah, Amber, Chris and Mike. 

Here are Desirae, Dave, me, Chris, Sarah and Mike – Amber took the picture:

Dee, Dave, Lisa, Chris, Mike & Sarah

Our first stop was Jogyesa temple (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jogyesa) which is one of five traditional Buddhist temples located right inside Seoul.  It’s amazing to find these huge temples tucked away off main streets behind enormous skyscrapers and rows upon rows of high-rise apartment buildings. 

The temple itself was very similar to the one we’d seen during our Temple Stay, with brightly coloured wooden ceilings and stone sculptures.  Outside the temple there was a massive canopy of lotus lanterns hung overhead that apparently spelled  out a Buddhist blessing when viewed from the sky.  The best part of the temple was the three giant golden sculptures of Buddha inside the main hall.  They were an absolutely spectacular sight. 

Jogyesa Temple

Jogyesa Shrine

Jogyesa Temple Wall 1

Jogyesa Temple 2

Little Buddha Climbing a Tree

Jogyesa Temple 4

Three Gold Buddhas

Three Gold Buddhas 1

Next we perused the street festival, where both sides of the street were lined with hundreds of booths giving visitors the opportunity to explore all kinds of different Buddhist activities.  There were tea ceremonies, acupuncture seminars, lotus lantern crafts, prayer flags, woodblock rubbings and lots of other great finds.  One of my favourite booths featured an interesting combination of dentistry and face painting – why the two go together, I really don’t know. 

We wandered around for a bit, taking in the sights, then made our way down to Jongno Street, which is where the lantern parade was to take place later in the evening.  There were quite a few stationary paper floats to whet our appetites for what was to come.  We all wondered what would happen if it started to rain – how would these beautiful paper creations survive the torrential rains that often came out of the blue?

Girl in Hanbok

Sumo Wrestlers

Girl in Hanbok 1

Tiger with Woman and Child


Then Dave and I met up with Anthony and Angela for dinner at a traditional Korean restaurant; well, Anthony, Angela and I had dinner at a Korean restaurant.  Dave just sat and watched us eat, then he got some Burger King afterwards.  He still hasn’t quite taken to eating a lot of Korean food 🙂

We set up camp at the corner of Jongno Street and Jogyesa Temple Street just as the parade began.  Thousands of people lined both sides of the streets and watched as many more thousands paraded through the streets – it was a massive sea of people.  Buddhist monks dressed in traditional robes holding lotus lanterns followed brightly coloured floats and dance troupes.  Rows and rows of women in beautiful hanboks walked by, with the gentle swish of their silk robes the only sound in the air.  We watched the parade continue for more than two hours, and we never got tired of the floats, the lanterns, and the swarms of people that filled the streets. 

The quality of these pictures is fairly poor, since I couldn’t exactly ask the parade to stop and say “cheese”, or “kimchi” as they say here, and it was night time.  Not the ideal situation for picture-taking…

Parade 4

Parade 62

Parade 14

Parade 20

Parade 66

Parade 69

Parade 32

Parade 44

Parade 52

Parade 70

Parade 71

It’s experiences like these that remind me of the beauty and spirituality that still exists in the midst of all the crazy, high-tech obsessiveness in Korea.  This country still amazes me every day, sometimes in a bad way, but more often in a good way.  I know I could never have stood and watched a Buddhist celebration like this anywhere in Canada!  Although it’s sometimes been incredibly difficult to live so far from home and everyone I love (besides Dave, of course), I know the once-in-a-lifetime memories I’ll take away from times like these that make it all worthwhile.


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