Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Yamas in Korea

As you've probably noticed by now, I'm back from my sojourn to South Korea!  This is the blog post where I tell you all about it!  As you can imagine, I've been doing a lot of Telling All About It for the past week, so I thought, instead of just posting cute pictures from the Cat Cafe (ok, fine, I'll totally do that, too), it might be interesting to contemplate those Yoga Philosophy Guide Posts: the Yamas and the Niyamas, from the perspective of how I was challenged to exercise them while navigating a foreign land. Starting with...

Ahimsa.  Ahimsa means, 'non (A) harming (himsa)'. I struggle the most with ahimsa when I go to the post office...what is with NYC post office employees?  But ANYWAY, while staying in Korea, a culture that's very fond of meat, I often found myself bumping up against two potential Ahimsa violations: eating factory farmed meat, and expressing disdain or a distrustfulness of the food I was being served.  I didn't want to do either of these things, but I basically had to do one or the other.  The good news is that Korea doesn't import ANY meat from the United States.  Our meat is considered tainted and unsafe to them.  As it is to anyone who is familiar with how it is produced, and the laughable regulations (lack thereof) in place to maintain safety.  All their meat comes from Australia.  Which is a good deal closer to them than it is to us, but still, not very local.  And there was no way of knowing if it came from a happy free-range cow or not.  You can guess how this went most of the time: I hoped for the best and ate the meat.  If it wasn't meat, it was eggs, and laying hens don't fair any better when being raised conventionally.

Satya: Satya means honesty with yourself and others.  I already wrote a blogpost about this one.  Satya's an interesting one to work with while traveling abroad, because almost inevitable, you're having thoughts that if voiced aloud are a bit rude: you're over this unfamiliar food, you're lost and confused a lot of the time, you'd trade your iphone for someone to just speak ENGLISH to you...if you've traveled abroad, you know the feeling.  So, of course, you DON'T voice these feelings, at least not often or to locals that you meet.  But, also, you often don't want to voice them to yourself.  You went into this able to appreciate the grand adventure of it: being plunked down in an entirely new culture sounded exciting, the first thing on your list was trying all the different foods, you hoped to learn some of the language...so even as the culture shock sets in and it doesn't feel like an adventure anymore, you keep trying to tell yourself that it does, and that cognitive dissonance can really do you in.  It took me a while to figure this out, but once I did and started acknowledging when I was feeling overwhelmed instead of excited, I accepted that.  We went to an Italian restaurant for lunch one day.  It was awesome.

Asteya: Asteya means non-stealing, and no, I had no troubles avoiding putting things that weren't mine in my bag and running off with them (unlike when I lived in Ireland for five weeks and came home with ten pint glasses...), but that doesn't mean I was off the hook.  You can steal a lot of things: time, energy, thunder...which has been all too easy now that I'm back in the states.  I can put myself squarely in the center of any group conversation by mentioning my recent travels...but that's a shitty thing to do if someone else currently has the spotlight for good reason.  Any time you're visiting friends, it's way too easy to 'steya' their time, too.  They're not on vacation: they're living their normal lives!  Meanwhile you're inviting them to drop everything and explore every day, and potentially also eating their food.  Oops.  We made sure to buy some groceries and assure our friends we could navigate Seoul on our own whenever necessary.

Brahmacharya: Well, we were sleeping on the floor of our friend's studio so celibacy was no problem! Har har har.  But seriously, brahmacharya, which means to channel your energy (sexual and otherwise) in useful ways was an incredibly challenging one.  Looking back, we wasted so much time wandering around without an agenda!  To be fair, wandering around without an agenda is a great way to see how locals live, and explore cool stuff that's not on any touristy top-ten list, but in the last few days, as we contemplated all the stuff we'd hoped to see and been unable to fit in, we felt a little sheepish.

Aparagraha: This one means 'non-coveting', and I must confess, I was coveting fluency in Korean like mad.  Also my friend's cell phone plan that gave her access to google maps, and anyone she might wish to talk to, whenever she wanted...and of course, I couldn't just fail to practice Satya and tell myself I was enjoying my phone-free adventure...I was a good deal of the time, but I'd never been to Seoul!  Google maps would have been hell of useful! Working with this one meant having a lot of faith: faith that we'd find a cafe with wifi any minute, faith that we actually were walking in the right direction, faith that walking really far in the wrong direction wouldn't kill us...and lo and behold, we did, we were, and it didn't!

I think I'll save the Niyamas for next time.  This is plenty to digest for now.  Here are some pictures!
I was really excited about the cat cafes, ok?
Axed Diehard tagline?
This is a real  cat.  I petted it.  In the cat cafe.  Cat cafes are awesome. 
These tanks of fish, eels, and squid were all over the restaurant-rich area of Bucheon we were staying in with my friends.  I have a thing for cephalopods.  There are lots more pictures of these guys where this came from.  Videos, too.
We found this no-text-needed announcement at the entrance to the beach in Busan.
Apparently pushy sea life is a problem on Seoul's subways?
And it's totally worse when the sea life is loaded.
Took this one in Tokyo.  In a land where squatting toilets are still the norm, you need signs like this.  I  now know why there is so frequently pee on the seat when I use public restrooms after older Asian ladies. They're pretty spry for their age, apparently.
More to come next week!

Live Omily, always and everywhere,
~em

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