Wherever you go, there you are*

*The title of this post is meant to reference the works of the Buddha and not a 1980’s movie.

I couldn’t tell you the exact point in my life when I decided I wanted to come to Korea. There was no single moment where I said “Yes! This is where my life is headed.” It was certainly on my radar for a number of years before I took the dive and flew over, but there was never one of those “ah-ha!” moments for me. I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling, especially amongst my fellow expats. Korea seems to be full of people who are searching for something. We come here with the intent of escaping any of a multitude of sins back home:debt, ex-loves, responsibility, etc.

I don’t know if I knew I was running when I left. Maybe I thought I was simply leaving something behind, but, then again, maybe we spend most of our lives running: sometimes away from one thing, sometimes towards another. I want to think that, after years of running away, I’m finally running towards something. There is not, as of yet, a way to tell what I’m running towards, but I feel a definite shift in how I see the world these days.

A lotus blossom handed to me by a monk on my way in

A paper lotus blossom handed to me by a monk.

One of the most noticeable changes is that I am learning, slowly, to be happy with myself. Most days, I am content to keep my own company. While there are the bouts of homesickness, loneliness, and those hollow, empty days that are (inevitably) part of life (and the experience here), I don’t spend time dwelling on those feelings as much as I did my first few weeks (months) here. At 27, it feels like I am finally learning to be happy with me (my hope is that this growth will continue, and in 10 years I’ll look back on what I wrote here and go “WHAT WAS I EVEN THINKING?!”).

I don’t know if there is a point to the above rambling, except as a way to say that a few weeks ago, after having every weekend scheduled to the brim with events (all good! But still busy), I needed some down time. I intentionally planned to spend some quality time with myself and had nothing on tap except maybe heading to a park to partake in the Buddha’s Birthday celebrations. I spent a better part of the day just wandering around in Duryu park.

Around 5 p.m, I headed to the outdoor amphitheatre to take part in a floating-lantern ceremony for Buddha’s birthday. The event was combined with a memorial for the victims of the Sewol ferry-boat disaster, and it made for a very moving and beautiful evening.

Lanterns and candles to celebrate Buddha's birthday and commemorate the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster

Lanterns and candles to celebrate Buddha’s birthday and commemorate the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster

Lanterns lined the park and there were various choirs performing on the large stage up front. As people filtered in, they handed out rice balls (a sign of generosity and peace) for people to snack on, and each person was given a lantern and candle.

This girl and her mom were so sweet together

This girl and her mom were so sweet together.

As the sun started setting, a performance group took the stage and brought offerings to the idol on stage. There was more singing and chanting, some speeches (to acknowledge the deceased, I think), and then they dimmed the lights for the lantern send-off.

Another little girl who kept waving at me and singing with her friends.

Another little girl who kept waving at me and singing with her friends.

Group after group of people around me started to send of their lanterns; each inscribed with a message of peace or love. It was quite a sight to see 5,000+ lanterns heading off into the night sky.

Lantern send-off.

Lantern send-off.

A lantern floating off into the night.

A lantern floating off into the night.

Lanterns rising past Woobang Tower

Lanterns rising past Woobang Tower

Korea is never what I expect, but (slowly, slowly) I’m finding my way. Thanks for sharing this journey with me 🙂

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