Chinmaye

In the Land of Morning Calm


पृथ्वीमध्ये बहु लोक,
परिभ्रमणे कळे कौतुक

This line by Marathi saint Samartha Ramdas means – there are many people in the world, many cultures to see, when you travel you will see the magnificence of humanity. My favourite designer – architect Ando Tadao is a self taught maestro who sees traveling as education. When one travels like a tourist, it is difficult to feel the pulse of the people. You can see the monuments, the sites, get a feel of how the food is but it is seeing like an outsider parachuted for a few days… the learning is very superficial. I was here in South Korea for a 4 month academic tenure at the Dongguk University… I have been to South Africa, Malaysia, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria etc for business. Later I also had a chance to shoot a part of my film in Germany, Holland and Belgium. However, this was a 4 month long trip and I was funded by the Global Korea Scholarship. I created a visual travelogue on South Korea for Indian audiences as one of my design projects at the IDC school of design at IIT Bombay during the Master of Design program 2012-14 and finally I am going to share these visual experiences with you all through this blog series.

Seodaemun Prison – symbol of Korean freedom struggle

India and South Korea share the Independence Day! On this very day the Japanese surrendered in WWII and Korea was freed from the Japanese colonial rule. The seeds of cold war were sown and the small peninsular nation was broken into two parts just like Vietnam and Germany.. However, did not get a realistic chance of re-unification.. but that is a separate story we will explore in detail. Indians look at South Korea as a tech powerhouse, a country of K-Pop and K-drama, beauty products and plastic surgeries. It is a progressive nation that has tried to stay connected with its roots and as a student of culture and design, I felt curious to see the cultural processes powering this phenomenon. I studied documentary film-making, digital cinematography etc at the Dongguk University. It is a Buddhist university situated in Seoul suburb called Chungmuro; which is the hub of the Korean film industry. This blog series is my humble effort to recreate my experiences in Seoul and South Korea for all of you through photos and videos. Seoul Curry is journey of an Indian in the land of morning calm.

Incheon airport

After completing Mumbai-Bangkok-Seoul journey, I reached the Incheon airport on 30th August 2013. It was a breezy, rainy morning when I came out of the terminal building. If I had taken a cab ride to Dongguk it would have costed me about 5 thousand rupees, but fortunately the university had given us guidance about the bus service to city which was much cheaper and quite convenient.

Airport – city bus link

By the time I reached Chungmuro, skies cleared up. I took a short taxi ride to the campus and found my hostel. After keeping my luggage in the room I decided to take a short tour of the Dongguk campus.

This Buddhist institution also played a key role in the Korean freedom struggle. The campus is situated on a hillock and spread on both the sides. I visited the Buddhist temple on the campus and inadvertently entered through the gate that was meant exclusively for the monks. A monk inside politely told me to use the side gate from next time and asked me where I had come from. When I told him I am from India, he was visibly elated and greeted me saying you are from the land of Buddha. Little did I know that I had just crossed the big cultural bridge between India and South Korea.

Buddhist temple at Dongguk

After a couple of hours of campus walk I was now feeling hungry. I was wondering what I should eat.. I am not a strict vegetarian nor do I follow any religious food norm. However, I am more comfortable with vegetarian food and not really attracted to meat delicacies. However, I do try out various local dishes whenever I travel and do not mind consuming some meat or fish! I was carrying 4kg of Methi Theplas neatly packed in foil and kept in the room refrigerator, so I was not worried. I was not yet sure about prices and mentally calculating everything into Indian rupees created a very scary picture in the mind! So I decided to buy a couple of bananas.

1500 Wons is about 100 Rupees

Recently there was controversy about actor Rahul Bose’s banana order at a five star hotel and I must say I got a relatively cheaper deal. The spontaneous association with South Korea is K-Pop, K-Drama, North Korea and DMZ, industrial prowess and brands like Hyundai and Samsung .. Taekwando, Seoul Olympics. The story of a Korean queen who grew up in Ayodhya is quite interesting too. Gangnam style video had just gone viral a few weeks before my arrival.. Korean war ended in 1953 and the city was destroyed 4 times during the apocalyptic phase. But the city had risen like a Phoneix .. I was curious to get a feel of the city.. at least the suburb Chungmuro where I was to spend the next 4 months.

Pal Gaguin art on a Hyundai car

I was fascinated to see the Hyundai showroom with this peculiar designer piece. When I was back it was about quarter to six in the evening. I checked at the hostel canteen and I was told that the dinner closes at 7pm. I was yet to meet my local buddy and did not know what to order. I decided to go for a Soban meal (a Thali that you pick up and eat on a solitary table) There was some seafood and egg with sticky rice and it was quite unusual to my palette. I had my first encounter with hot and sour Khimchi and it was quite a tangy experience. But what I liked was doing early dinners! I do not know why we eat so late in India..

I stepped out for a short post dinner walk within campus. The sky looked deep blue and the contrast with the Namsan dormitory building made it an interesting spectacle. A short walk to the university hill brought me to the serene Buddha sculpture and the comforting silence around the spot.

नामसान विद्यार्थी वसतिगृह
Buddha on the Dongguk hill

From the top of the university building the Seoul city looked beautiful. I could see the outlines of hotels and skyscrapers. Namsan tower was brightly lit too. There was no wind, no rain.. it was absolutely quiet. My first day in this new country was about to end on a quiet solitary note.

Some experiences are difficult to describe through words .. these sensorial experiences have such a deep impact on you that now matter how articulate you are, it is nearly impossible to explain that state of mind to someone else. Even if you get slices of these experiences captured in the camera, it can at best give a glimpse of the real experience. I hope to unfold the story of my exploration of this beautiful East Asian country through a weekly visual blog… keep watching this space!

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