August 26, 2017

Korea Michelin tour day 2: Baekyangsa Temple stay

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After a few hours' of sleep, we dragged our tired bodies out of bed for the primary purpose of this trip.  In addition to dining at a number of restaurants which have received Michelin stars, the whole impetus for coming to Korea is our overnight temple stay at Baekyangsa Temple (白羊寺), and the cooking lesson with Jeong Kwan (正寬) sunim - whose name spread far and wide recently thanks to her being featured in an episode of the Netflix series Chef's Table.

We checked out of The Shilla Seoul and grabbed a couple of taxis to Seoul Station.  We were running a little short on time, and we wasted a few minutes running around the big complex trying to find a place for a quick lunch.  Eventually we settled on Bulgogi Brothers (불고기브라더스) inside the main terminal building, since they could seat us immediately and, in any case, could provide us with lunch boxes for takeout.

I took this set of beef with egg on rice because it's one of the quickest things the kitchen could deliver.  No complaints here.

Hello Kitty wanted cold and spicy buckwheat noodles with beef (냉면과 불고기).  These were definitely refreshing, and tasted better than my neighborhood Korean joint.

We caught up with the City Foodsters here, and now our group was finally at full strength.  The seven of us hurriedly descending to the train platform our KTX train ride... but J was clearly not full from the bulgogi (불고기) lunch box he inhaled in about 3 minutes, so he stopped by a Bulgogi Brothers (불고기브라더스) kiosk for some spam and egg musubi.  Hello Kitty pointed out that they were also selling deep-fried spam, so I got myself some... which were freshly fried just for me.  Yum.

Our hour-and-a-half KTX train ride was smooth and over in a jiffy, and I realized that we boarded and disembarked the train without having gone through any turnstiles or had our tickets checked.

A half-hour taxi ride later, we got off at the entrance to Baekyangsa Temple.

We made our way to the office for temple stay, registered and picked up our uniforms, and were led to our dorms.  These buildings seemed pretty new, and the smell of the cypress still seemed fresh.  We dropped off our bags and changed into the uniforms... which made me look like a cross between MC Hammer in Can't Touch This and Goku from Dragon Ball.

Our first order of business was to "learn Buddhist manners".  This was the first time we saw the whole group together, and there were about 30 of us.  We were given a brief introduction to the legend and history of the temple, and a quick tour of the main structures.

At 5 p.m. we gathered in the cafeteria for our first temple meal, and lined up for the buffet.  Our guide had told us that while we were free to eat as much as we wanted, we should take a small portion to start, and to make sure to eat and chew slowly.  So I took a little bit of everything for my first plate.

This turned out to be a load of crap... By the time everyone has taken their food, there was very little left for seconds.  Panicking that I would be left hungry for the rest of the evening, I went back to get myself some soup... and managed to scrounge up the very last bits of vegetables in the big pot...

I also tried to stuff myself with a piece of this cake, which seemed similar in texture to Shanghainese sponge cake called songgao (鬆糕).  Not the most appetizing cake, and I gave up halfway...

Oh and the part about eating slowly?  Well, I guess you're supposed to eat slowly but not casually chat with your friends the way you would at a restaurant.  At 5:40 pm. we were promptly kicked out of the cafeteria, and of course we had to wash our own dishes before leaving.  Many thanks to The Great One for volunteering to wash mine...

We gathered in front of the Drum and Bell Tower just before 6 p.m. for the ceremony.  One of the monks banged on the giant drum, made with cowhide, while another ranged the bell a couple of times.

We were then given the opportunity to ring the giant bell ourselves.  This was unexpected, and a pretty nice experience.  It's amazing that the bell continues to vibrate and the sound reverberates for easily 25-30 seconds after each ring.

Afterwards we gathered in the education hall, and was served some green tea while being made to watch videos of a Korean violinist playing classical tunes.  Not sure how a Buddhist temple, green tea, and violins all come together...  This was also the time when one of the senior monks taught us how to bow properly and lectured us on philosophy.  For a few of us who were suffering from lack of sleep, the two hours we spent became excruciating towards the end...

Just before 9 p.m., we returned to our dorms and retired for the night.  Each of us was given a thin cotton blanket as our sleeping mat, a pillow, and a bigger cotton blanket to cover ourselves.  Very basic accommodations, and it's been a while since I've slept on a hard floor.  At least we had air conditioning and hot running water for showers.  I turned off our lights around 9:30 p.m.  It's gonna be a real early morning tomorrow!

P.S.  RC and I both snore, and the next morning I heard that our Korean roommate - who got stuck with us at the last minute - got no sleep...

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