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Friday, June 25, 2010

Vacation is Upon Me.

Yes, the long, grueling semester during which I worked an average of 5 hours a day, 4 days a week, has finished after a monumental four months (closer to three if you count the time I had off). How to pass the time until the end of August? (Yes, two months paid vacation. I'm sure I've mentioned this before.)

Well, the original plan was to head off on a bicycle trip this morning to Haeinsa temple, which ought to be about four or five hours away. Though it's frequently referred to as one of the most beautiful and important temples in Korea, and though it's only an hour bus ride away from Daegu, I've yet to check it out. There is allegedly a huge collection of Buddhist Sutras and Scriptures (I'll admit I don't know the difference), which were some of the first instances of movable type, or something.

Actually, though, the stop-over at Haeinsa was just meant to be a little break on a longer trip. My plan was to head another 3 or 4 hours (by bike) West to visit the Geochang Farm School (거창귀농학교, "Geochang Returning-to-agriculture School)," not to learn about farming (though maybe I can do that in the future), but to attend a 10-day Vipassana silent meditation retreat.

I learned about Vipassana while I was in Sadhana. Lots of the other volunteers had already been on one or several retreats, others were planning to go, and some went off, did a retreat, and returned. Everyone recommended it as an intense and amazing experience, but one that's fairly difficult to talk about, particularly to an audience that hasn't spent much time meditating or cultivating the ability to look "inward." (This includes me).

The essence of the program is that you pretty much meditate all day (some guided, mostly independent, in a big group hall) and avoid communicating at all with the outside world, the other participants, your deities, or even your future self. This means no phones, no books, no talking, no gestures, no eye contact, no religious objects, no rituals, no diaries, no pens. Just sitting or walking, thinking or not thinking or observing your thinking or observing your not thinking or whatever exactly it is you need to or are supposed to do (or not do).

The room and food (simple vegan; rice, vegetables, fruit, no spicy stuff) are free. At the end of the course, you're expected to donate whatever you want to or whatever you can afford in order to provide for the next group of participants.

Interesting. Exciting. Terrifying. I find it hard to sit still for 10 minutes. I either get jittery or fall asleep. I have no idea what to expect. Actually, I'm trying not to expect anything, not to put any burdens on the process. I think maybe in this case it's important not to have some sort of goal set out in advance, since I have no idea what the process is even capable of achieving. I'm sure it depends on the individual. I am slightly worried about losing my sanity. But then again, I am also thinking I might find it. I don't know what that means. Hrm.

BUT: due to inclement weather conditions (IE a forecast for "pouring"" rain) I revised my plan and decided to just take the bus. Didn't want to risk catching a cold before what is already reputed to be a fairly difficult ordeal. Unfortunately, there was only a little drizzle this morning, and now it's just nice and misty. Probably perfct for a bike ride. Had I left early this morning, as was my original plan, I could probably be there by now, nice and dry and not even too sweaty. This marks about the 10th time that we've had forecasts for rain and I've gotten all excited for the good of my garden plot (please have a look!), only to be let down by the mysterious forces which oh so frequently mislead the Korean weather forecasters.

Anyway, what I'm saying is, speak to me now or forever hold your peace for two weeks. At which point, I will be back to read what you've written and write more for you to read.

Two Images

I don't remember how, but I awesomely found a pretty awesome [[**very odd typo, but I think I'll just leave it in**]] website/online magazine/perhaps real magazine called http://seedmagazine.com/, which is quickly supplanting Slate and TED as my go-to-source for time-killing media. I highly recommend their "Food Fight" series (introduction here, conclusion with index here), in which an ecologist and a political scientist write back-and-forth essays addressing the question of whether looming (or rather, currently existing) environmental and social problems can best be addressed by capital-intense industrialized farming methods (including the use of nitrogen fertilizer and genetically modified crops) or by sophisticated, synergetic/synergistic, "agroecological," organic-type methods.

I devoured the essays there as well as many of the links found within, and then despaired of not having any eco-articles to get me all incensed again for a few days. Then I found out they have another series, this time on whether overpopulation or overconsumption will cause more problems in the coming years. It promises to be equally interesting. Probably equally frustrating, confounding, and depressing as well.

Anyhow, here are two images/maps/graphs/representations/depictions/what-have-you from the opening article. I think I'd actually seen one or both of them before, but never right next to each other. The first is a world map rescaled so that population, rather than geographical area, determines the size of each country. The second is similar, except that population and geography are replaced by wealth.

The disparity between the American and European situation - high consumption relative to population - is in stark contrast with the high population to consumption ratio in most of the rest of the world, particularly in China and India. (And most of all in Africa, though for some reason I'm not so sensitive on this front.)

Actually, though, the first time I looked at the second image, I couldn't find anything shaped like Korea where I thought Korea ought to be. Then I freaked out when I (thought I) realized that Korea was the big purple blob on the right. Then I calmed down when I realized (for real) that it's actually right where it should be, between China and Japan, with just a slightly different shade of green. The consumption is monstrous! Of course, having been here for a while, having ambled through the most ridiculous, luxurious, frivolous, terrifying department stores conceivable, I knew this on some level. I hadn't imagined, though, that my little old "Land of the Morning Calm" could single-handedly (technically 100,000,000 handedly, I suppose) rival or outconsume France, India, Africa, or South America. Taking population into account, Korea still comes in far below Western Europe and the US, but even so...I need to find a farm, quick!