The lanterns hung in the park were mesmerizing!
And the sunny, blue skies definitely added a bit of beauty...
Lanterns are hung like this in many streets, temples, and parks across Korea in anticipation of Buddha's Birthday They looked like bright balloons against the sky...
I couldn't stop taking pictures!
We painted little wooden Buddha magnets at the Lantern festival
My Buddha...wish I could have sat there for hours, painting more!
Lotus leaf-wrapped rice: you were not as delicious as I'd hoped you'd be
Walking under a tent of paper lanterns!
Lantern parade: miles and miles, thousands upon thousands of lanterns and people
Lantern floats from around the world
Most of them were Buddhism/peace/unity related...but there were definitely a few wild cards in there. Umm...promotion of safe syringe usage??
It can't be an Asian parade without the giant dragon head!! I kind of feel like my life is complete, now that I've seen one of these with my own eyes!!
Again...not too sure what this float was trying to promote...
Again...not too sure what this float was trying to promote...
And in other birthday celebrations...Happy Birthday, Kindergarten Chris!!
What a month of celebrations! Korea in May has been pretty good to me so far...one more kindergarten birthday already, the onset of steady warm weather, anticipation of upcoming vacations, and 3 major holidays...can't complain!
Wednesday, May 5th was Children's Day, a national holiday that granted us a day off from school. It was absolutely perfect- sunny and 70s, a day meant for laying around in the park (a.k.a. the small grassy patch in between high-rises), eating bibimbap for lunch, and just feeling thankful for the opportunity to be in Korea, teaching the most adorable children in the entire world. I kept hoping I'd see some of my students around Suji that day...you'd think that's virtually impossible, given the vast population of Suji, but it has happened before...and it's just about the greatest feeling you can have as a teacher :)
It also made me happy to see so many children out with their families that day, just enjoying the sunshine (well, enjoying the sunshine in their long pants, shirts, hats, scarves, gloves, and sun umbrellas) and the freedom of the day. Children here aren't really given that freedom to be children any given day of the week, with their strict schedules of education and extracurriculars...attending both Korean and English school from 8-7 pm every day, plus often having school on Saturdays, doesn't leave the average Korean child much time for fun and games. This day reminded me of how many more freedoms children in the U.S. have...I don't think my students would even believe me if I told them that many American children go right home after school to just watch TV, drink pop, and play video games. I realize that these may all be biased observations of Korean children and education, given that I've only been teaching at a private English school here, but it still makes me thankful for the freedom I was given as a child to just be a child, enjoying spontaneity and free time and individuality. That doesn't seem to exist here for children!
Children's Day this month was followed closely by another great holiday (at least according to me): Teachers' Day! Celebrating the value and accomplishments of teachers everywhere in Korea by giving flowers, gifts, cards, and lots of hugs...what a novel concept! :) I received homemade cards from all my kindergartners and from many of my elementary students...all of which said, in some form or another, "Britney Teacher, thank you. I love you." And since the parents at my ritzy private school love to compete and try to outdo each other with spending money on their children and their children's teachers, I also received a collection of expensive gifts: Chanel eyeshadow and lipstick, earrings, roses, brand-name bath and beauty products, and more. Other teachers received everything from cologne and perfume to Coach bags, Swarovski crystal necklaces, and fancy leather wallets. Not a bad day for any of us!
And just after Teachers' Day was the Lantern Festival, marking the celebrated week of Buddha's Birthday. The actual holiday is on Friday, May 21st this year, but the Sunday prior is the huge, international celebration representing Buddhist culture from around Asia: Korea, China, Japan, Nepal, India, and Sri Lanka. The celebration was held in Seoul, in a Buddhist-influenced neighborhoods surrounding a prominent temple. The weather was warm, the skies were clear and sunny, and the streets were absolutely packed with people and paper lanterns. Seeing all the bright-colored lanterns strung above the streets and across the temples is a sight I'll never forget...perhaps one of the most beautiful and enchanting sites I've ever seen. I couldn't take enough pictures of them all!!
The lantern parade commenced in the evening, as soon as dusk fell around 7 pm...and it continued for over two and a half hours...with the continuous marching of thousands upon thousands of people. I heard that more than 100,000 people partake in this parade...and I can't even fathom the number of paper lanterns present! There were lanterns of all shapes, sizes, and colors...and huge floats of paper lanterns pushed along by Buddhists, in the likeness of giant Buddhas and elephants and dragons. Every single float was amazing, seeing them glow against the backdrop of crowded streets and sidewalks, hearing the steady beat of drums as traditional Korean dancers and muscians marched along...with the occasional lull in clamor and celebration, as a troup of Buddhist monks would pass by in their identical robes, silently carrying their lanterns and prayer beads. The whole scene was mesmerizing, magical, and incredibly peaceful...feeling the positive energy of the Buddhist parade participants reflected back in the crowds lining the streets...and knowing that all of these hundreds of thousands of people were present for a single cause of celebration. It was a beautiful, truly collective celebration...and I felt so fortunate to have been witness to it. Definitely one of the most memorable experiences in Korea!
I'll finish celebrating Buddha's Birthday this weekend, taking advantage of our long weekend off from school by traveling by train to the southern city of Busan! Very excited- haven't been that far south in Korea yet. The celebrations and perks of May continue...Bibimbap on Teachers' Day...wouldn't have it any other way!!