Monday, February 28, 2011

Visiting Yeongseonsa (Temple)

February 26th, 2011
I went to 송파산대놀이 Songpa Sandae Noli practice and it was just 함완식 Ham Wanshik (one of the two National Human Treasures), 함승헌 Ham Seungheon (his son) and 어원석 Eo Wonseok (the other 전수자 jeonsuja—actually, there are more than just the three of us, there are also the two musicians who are jeonsuja). We were also joined by someone who I think is Ham's co-worker and his two young daughters, elementary school-aged. It was frustrating. At the start Ham wanted my help explaining something about Songpa Sandae Noli in English (he has a work related conferred in the US in a couple months, and he'll present about Songpa Sandae Noli during an evening dinner-time session, I guess). After that Ham led us through four motions. That's right. Four. And we took a lot of five and three minute breaks. Why? Honestly, Ham looked tired and irritated. Then Ham Jr. and Eo worked on Act 4. There are four principal characters, the two monks (that was them), the old woman (former gisaeng/geisha) and her daughter (whom she sells), the musician/entertainer 'Aesadang.' Ham told me to try being Aesadang. But to me, that character is completely wrong. First because the part includes a drum solo. Second, because this is one of the most feminine acting characters in the mask dance drama. Which according to the general concept of suit the part to the personality of the player, means it's the wrong part for me. I was very uncomfortable and really annoyed. Because the old woman enters stage first and I'd much rather learn her part! Then exactly one hour after the start of the class, Ham called it a day. Which irritated the bejesus out of me. It takes me 70 minutes or more to get to Songpa, the last thing I want is to only practice for an hour.

I walked back to the subway with Ham and I explained that I'd rather learn the part of the 8 dark-faced monks (which is the part almost everyone starts with) and that we should practice for longer, since it's so far away (esp. for Eo who needs two hours to get to Songpa!).

I grabbed a snack and found a bus to 남양주 Namyangju where my friend 연일스님 Yeonil Seunnim (Seunnim is Buddhist monk or nun) is staying at Yeonseonsa, a small temple of (one of?) her teacher(s). I wrote about finding this friend again in this blog post. Yeonil doesn't normally live in Namyangju, but she told me she commonly goes to this temple after she finishes the twice yearly retreats that (almost) all Buddhist clergy in Korea engage in.

I arrived just a few minutes before evening prayers, and after introducing me to the main prayer hall (so I could bow to the Buddha and admire how amazingly beautiful the prayer hall was) and the abbess, Yeonil insisted that I eat. Two 보살님 (lay people who volunteer at the temple) were in the kitchen, and they fixed me up a meal. It turns out that the younger one lives at the temple, she's been there for a year and a half. The older one was visiting, just like me. Dinner was excellent (and fully vegetarian). Before I had quite finished (in the temples you really have to polish your plate) Yeonil was back. The two lay women, Yeonil and I drank 보이차 puer tea for almost two hours of great conversation. Then (not yet 9) it was time to go to sleep, since we would all be waking up for the 4 a.m. morning ceremony. Amazingly, I was able to fall asleep next to the grandmother lay woman on a platform bed with a thin pad over a marble slab (the marble was heated and green and silver veined, very fancy). I slept lightly and after 3, particularly because of the drumming of rain on the skylight in the room, I couldn't get back to sleep.

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