South Korea 2013

15 April

I woke up to a rather clear head and a continuation of my cough. As planned we headed out at 7am, where our transport to the airport and two bishops were waiting for us. We said our goodbyes and stuffed bags and selves into two vehicles.

We were all a bit concerned about the weight of our check-in bags due to the number of gifts we were carrying. The scales showed all of us about 1kg over, but the bags were taken without comment. Whew!

The Koreans who had come with us paid for our breakfasts, and then more goodbyes before we went through security. A few last minute presents were purchased at a Korean shop, and then we headed off to board our 'plane.

The flight home was 12 hours long. I passed the time by napping, working on the laptop (until the battery ran out), and watching 'Skyfall.' I also talked to my two seatmates, who were young Korean women embarking on a three week trip through Europe. And, yes, they too were impressed by my chopstick skills. I don't know how my ego is going to cope now that I'm going to enjoy such daily admiration.

We managed to fit four adults and our cases into the Cowley car. Quentin was dropped off at a motorway services where his wife was waiting to collect him. I was delivered to my home around 7pm. I'm pleased to report that all of the Korean items have emerged undamaged from the cases. And thus ends this trip, not with a bang but with a lot of washing.

Photos from the trip home are here.

14 April

I write tonight's entry in a state of somewhat squiffyness. Which I'm not even certain is a real word. But at any rate, whatever I write tonight might be amended when I am in a more responsible state, so enjoy it whilst you can. 

Well, anyone who writes 'whilst' can't be too drunk, can she?

Although the cough gave up after a half hour last night, allowing me sleep, I still woke up with a semi-functioning voice. I did go down to breakfast. At 9am I went over to the Cathedral and wandered down to a chapel in the crypt. I was due to preach at the English Mission service at 9.30am which is, as you might guess, a service in English. I'd met the priest who looks after this congregation earlier in the week, a lovely chap who has spent a number of years living in the USA.

The service was entirely in English, and the congregation was a mixture of nationalities. I think a number of them had English as a second language but knew more English than Korean, hence they attended this service. There were a number of families, and indeed not enough seats for the 60 or so who attended.

Liz had preached at a 9am service elsewhere in the Cathedral, which +John had attended. So he was a bit late to this service. He managed to get to his seat mostly unnoticed during the recital of the Psalm. The priest only realised he was there during the Epistle, and was astounded that +John had come. I guess it's to +John's credit that I told the priest, 'Of course he's here, he wants to hear my sermon. He's supporting me as a colleague.'

I preached pretty much the same sermon as I'd done on Easter Sunday. If you're interested, you can read it here. It seemed to go down well, despite my croaky voice. +John and I stood near the altar for the Eucharistic prayer. +John gave the blessing at the end of the service.

I went back to the retreat house to dump my robes and collect camera. I was in good time for the 11am Cathedral service. Of course the front pew only held one other person, so I was able to plonk myself there. Soon afterwards my Peterborough colleagues joined me. 

Again I was near to tears as a beautiful high mass unfolded before my eyes. +John preached. The Dean sang the preface to the Eucharistic prayer in a lovely tenor. I did my best to get photos without being a slave to the camera.

We joined the congregation for lunch afterwards. It was only then that we were informed that a meeting had been arrange for 1.30pm for us to meet with members of the vestry. +John and Quentin were already committed to a trip to meet with former 'comfort women', so it was down to Liz and me. I did think thoughts unworthy of a priest at this point, but we did go. At 2pm I did draw a line under the questioning, and Liz and I got away at 2pm. Don't get me wrong, the questions posed by vestry members were quite good, but we're all rather tired after a busy ten days!

I went back to the retreat house, loaded up camera equipment, put on my sun hat, and strode off into Seoul. Alone. With no time schedule. Bliss. I did feel like I was bunking off school. It was a lovely sunny day, although the wind was quite cold. I walked past the two statues of worthies up to the palace. There was what one Korean called a 'garage sale' on--people offering their second hand goods for sale underneath canopies.

Near the palace I was hailed by two women who had been at the service that morning. I talked to them and we found someone to get a photo of us. I caught the tail end of the changing of the guard at the palace.

My goal was to see Insa-Dong. At one point I wasn't sure whether  I were heading the right way, so I asked a pair of Korean women, who didn't know. I then accosted two Japanese women, who were also looking for the street. Even as a final person put us right the original Korean women hurried up to me because they'd found the street and wanted to guide me to it. They literally took me by the hand!

Insa-Dong has various stores selling cheap souvenirs and also hand made items. I found gifts for various people and also enjoyed the atmosphere, particularly the smells of Korean street food. 

I found my way back to my starting point. I managed to download photos before changing for the evening reception. +John and Quentin were slightly late returning from their trip, so the Cowleys and I went on ahead of them to the restaurant.

I grabbed a glass of red wine and some of the finger (well, toothpick foods) at the reception and talked to various people. When so summoned we went into the main room. There were various addresses (+John asked each of us to say some words) and a woman with a beautiful voice sang to us. Then we were sent free to get more food. Basically the toothpick buffet was the food for the evening. I entertained the people at my table (which may have set back international relations for months, if not years) and drank a bit too much of the 2012 Chilean merlot (!). We were each given a lovely bud vase to pack, whereas +John was given some mugs which need to find suitcase room.

And, yes, yet again my chopstick skills were praised!

We were told that the room in which we were dining had only been booked until 8.30pm, so at that time we left. We headed back to the retreat house, where we found the priest from Virginia. In the interests of international relations he agreed to accompany Quentin, John and me to the local bar for a drink. And only one drink, as the staff informed us that the place closed at 9.50pm!

Photos from today are here.

13 April

Woke up feeling better but with voice sounding much worse! I decided not to go to breakfast but simply have coffee and biscuits in my room. At 8.30am there was a knock on my door. I had the interesting experience of being given a plate of fruit by a bishop whilst I was still in my pyjamas. The bishop was followed by a nun bearing a plate on which was a cup of coffee, an egg, and a baked potato. I have had many surreal moments here in South Korea... +John told me later, 'We Peterborough Bishops look after our clergy.' I did feel a bit guilty, bearing in mind what I've written earlier in this blog. For all of five seconds, at any rate.

We had a full set of talks planned for today. Quentin was up first, carrying on from last night. After he'd finished, the interpreter asked me if I could please keep to the script. Quentin ad-libs a lot and the interpreter was getting tired! Well, with the state of my voice I wasn't going to go off an tangents anyway. Quentin had covered the training programme and learning styles. I took them through the ideas in Richard Foster's book, 'Streams of Living Water.' They enjoyed doing the line up of where they were on the scale for such spiritual traditions as the charismatic or the incarnational. 

My session continued after lunch. Quentin then talked to them about theological reflection, before I took them through an evening's session from the specialist module of the Lay Worship Leaders' course. At the end we took a number of questions before dismissing them at 4.30pm.

Dave and +John had gone to the National Museum for the afternoon. They came back just in time to join us for dinner. Our hosts said that we could probably use a 'Western meal' so we went to a local Italian place. There were some interesting twists. Liz's spaghetti came with pickles, and I was given a dish of maple syrup to pour on my four cheese pizza (!). (I declined.) Then we all headed back for an early night. We're all rather exhausted!

Photos from today are here. Those of +John and Dave at the museum were not taken by me.

12 April

I have developed a slight cold. Not a bad one. If this cold were a dog, it would not be like a labrador, coming to lie on my chest squeezing the breath out of me. This cold is more like an irritating terrier. I know it's around, but can mostly ignore it. However from time to time it comes up and yaps in my face. I've managed to treat it with caffeine and ibuprofen. Of course what I'm really missing is some whisky...

Our breakfast this morning was with Archbishop Paul at a local restaurant, of which he is 51% owner. He thought to treat us, so we had breakfast Korean style. A rice and oyster soup along with lots of kimchi (their pickled cabbage dish). Most of us struggled a bit with such a combination at that time in the morning. Those who struggled most were given a fruit dish, which mostly consisted of a fruit puree on lettuce spiced with chilli sauce. 

Afterwards we were taken to the Archbishop's office/study, where we had black coffee. He showed us with great pride the bishop's crook which the Peterborough team had brought out as a gift last year. 

Then we drove to another part of Seoul to visit the Yoido Full Gospel Church. This claims to be the largest church in the world. At one point there were a million members. Now there are 480,000 due to a deliberate policy of splitting off into daughter churches and because of an ongoing controversy (the founder is accused of tax evasion and removing funds from the church). 

What struck us, as we entered, were the rows of giving envelopes which appeared to be organised by member name. Nearby were a set of cash machines. Some of us stopped to have a closer look. Quentin was ahead, but he hurried back to let +John know that not only a pastor but a large video camera were waiting for us. The church runs a television network, so it appears that our visit was newsworthy. 

The pastor greeted us and we were taken into a side room for tea and fruit. The pastor obviously knew English well as we spoke without a translator, but he used a  translator for his responses. At the end +John asked if there were anything we could pray for as regards his church. I believe that this brought tears to the pastor's eyes. We were told to pray for unity, since the church is currently facing an issue which is causing a split.

Afterwards we were taken into a small chapel and shown a DVD (in English) about the church. I have found a variation of this video on-line, and it can be seen here. I told Quentin to kick me if I started to giggle. It was very earnest and focussed, I felt, on growth, growth, growth. 

Finally we entered the grand worship space itself. I busied myself with my wide angle lens. We were welcomed onto the stage and +John went behind the preacher's pulpit. I think I'd much rather be preaching to the thirty people at Welton any given Sunday. I think having that many people listening to me would be very unhealthy for my ego.

As ever we were given gifts upon our departure. All of us had mugs, and +John had a set of plates. As he is now going to Japan for a peace conference (decided the night before) I only hope the plates survive several 'plane journeys.

We drove on to Sungkonghoe University. The president of the university met us in his office, where I admired the reflective table and we were given some delicious strawberry juice. The president was forthright in his opinions and I liked him immensely. We had a short tour of the library and a museum housing objects from the history of the Anglican Church in Korea. Our guide, the university chaplain, find it highly amusing that +John pulled out a photo taken of the bishops at the 1998 Lambeth Conference.

Lunch was taken with a number of people from the university. At another table in the room Bishop Paul dined with a number of his senior clergy. Lunch was a very tasty shredded beef meal, and we had beer! Bishop Paul himself topped up glasses, and as I'm certain it's part of canonical obedience to never refuse a drink offered by a bishop... The chaplain sat at my right and, yes, he complimented me on my chopstick skills. The chaplain lived in the USA for six years, and continues to find it difficult to adapt back into Korean culture. He spoke of the 'third culture' idea, that those who live significant periods in a country outside the one of their birth never feel at home in either. As someone who emigrated to the UK from the USA in my 20's I knew what he meant. An emigrant is never at home in either country.

We then joined ten seminarians to take their questions about the church and ordained ministry in Peterborough Diocese. They seemed rather reluctant to speak and rather tired. We found out near the end of the session that they'd had an exam before lunch. The chaplain acted as translator. We discovered from them that there are more in training for ordination than there are posts available. Many of them will have to find secular jobs for an income before they grow a church large enough to pay for their salaries. Unlike the Church of England, Korean Anglican priests do not get paid centrally but instead they get a percentage of what is given by the local congregation.

We headed back to the retreat house. At the local coffee shop +John, Liz and I met with four of the female priests in the diocese. We would like to see some women priests come to visit Peterborough Diocese, and although we emphasised that it would have to be Bishop Paul's decision we would be happy to sort out accommodation and a programme for them. We had dinner with them at a local Chinese restaurant.

Then off to work. Quentin and I are to deliver several talks over the next two days. It was his turn tonight. We had submitted our Powerpoint slides in advance and translations of these were provided to the thirty people attending the talks. Quentin also had an interpreter. He brought up lay ministry in general before going on to present part of one of the day courses we hold for those training in lay ministry. I drank hot water to ease my throat (I'd run out of ibuprofen) and threw in the occasional quip. 

We finished at 9.15pm. Helpful Koreans gave me throat sweets and a pack of what I'm assured is ibuprofen. I'll take a tablet tomorrow morning, if necessary, and see what happens.

Photos from today are here.

11 April

I think I've been left a bit stiff from the night on the floor. I must be getting old! 

The Archbishop joined us at breakfast. He'd just taken the morning Eucharist service for the sisters. Large bowls of strawberries were a welcome addition to breakfast. 

At 9am we gathered outside the convent for our trip. One of our Korean hosts asked us, 'Where is the bishop?' Oops, none of us had noticed that +John wasn't with us. Yet again I'm certain the Koreans think that we don't look after our bishop.

We had a 90 minute drive in the people carrier to the Gang-Hwa Province. Our first visit was to an ancient church, Kang-Hwa-Eup. The priest allowed +John to strike the large bell. The church looked like a Buddhist temple on the outside. The inside was light walls and wood. 

We drove on to the Ganghwa Peace Observatory. North Korea is only across the river from South Korea at this point, and the observatory has high powered telescopes so people can look into North Korea. We saw villages with people working in fields. Were these show villages or real life? But what did strike one is whereas we had forests on our side of the river, the hills were bare on the other side. Looks like the North Koreans have used up all their timber. 

I noted that whereas we had sun, it was raining on the North Korean side. 'Of course,' said Quentin. 'They can't even get the weather right. Just like we used to have better summers before Margaret Thatcher was prime minister.'

A batch of soldiers were posing to have their photos taken by some display tanks. Tensions? What tensions?

Then on to lunch, where we met a retired bishop and his wife. They now run a welfare centre which provides work for the mentally impaired. Lunch was another Korean BBQ, but this time duck rather than beef. Delicious. One of the Korean priests noticed that +John was cutting the fatty skin off his pieces, and the priest began to do it for him. See, Korean clergy know how to take care of bishops.

Another church next, On-Soo-Ri. To my eyes it looked Italian. The priest had tea and fruit waiting for us. Rain was threatening. We viewed the older church next door, and the sun actually emerged for some photos. 

The sun became more steady as we headed up to the Jeon-Dung-Sa Temples. This place of worship for Buddhists had a large number of colourful paper lanterns in celebration of the Buddha's birthday. I was in photographic heaven! One of our hosts had contacted one of the monks, and he came out to greet us. The air of holy otherworldliness was shattered when his mobile 'phone rang. He invited us to join him for a cup of tea in a private building on site. 

He was a very nice chap, and we had a good conversation with him. At one point he said that an advantage we Christian clergy had was that we could get married, whereas he couldn't. 'Let me know if you ever change your mind,' I told him, 'I'm single.' That got a good laugh around the room. However, +John is not certain whether I'd get episcopal permission to marry a Buddhist monk. I have my suspicions that he's only trying to protect the monk...

As ever we had to move on. We only had ten minutes at the welfare centre run by the retired bishop. So a quick description of their work before we piled back into the people carrier. 

We arrived back at the retreat house at 5.20pm and had 40 minutes before gathering for dinner. This was at a local Italian restaurant, and it was nice to have a simple pasta meal, using a fork, and drinking a Chilean red wine. I think my right hand has chopstick cramp. 

Afterwards we were taken on a trip to the N Seoul Tower. The people carrier was parked near the National Theatre, and we caught a bus up to the tower. I'm afraid that we Brits were getting a bit hysterical on the bus, more to do with fatigue than a shared bottle of red wine. It was also rather surreal to have ten clergy on one bus (four from England, six from Korea).

The views from the top of the tower were excellent. I'd brought along my travel tripod so I could take long exposures. The observation platform is filled with brightly lit shops, which cast horrible reflections on the glass windows. The floor also vibrated under the many footsteps so I couldn't use a low ISO. I did my best and whenever I get the chance to work on the photos I'll find out how well I did.

We went back down again, and took the bus back to the car park. It was 10pm when we arrived at the retreat house. 

Photos from today are here.

10 April

Okay, my hips are not made for sleeping on a thin mattress on a hard floor. And the disadvantage of underfloor heating is that your bed is really hot at night! I did sleep, but I can't say it was the most comfortable night of my life. 

I was thrilled, however, to find bananas available at breakfast. Hurrah! I had one, plus an orange and a slice of toast. Then it was back up to my room to do some more catching up on photos between chats during coffee breaks. I took a few photos of the grounds in the morning sun, which was just as well, as by lunchtime we were getting snow flurries!

We packed and headed off around 1.30pm. Two vehicles were supplied, a people carrier and a car. We thought our hosts said 'Bishop and colleague' were to go in the car, so we assumed this was Quentin. Off Quentin went to the car with +John. Then he was ushered back to the people carrier. No, our hosts had said 'Bishop and Cowleys.' Well, Quentin and I knew our place. We climbed into the people carrier (which I think was far more comfortable anyway!) for the long drive.

We took a different route for our return journey. Hills (can't really call them mountains) were on either side of us. And soon we were into major sideways snow. Quentin and I grumbled that we'd hoped to have left snow at home. Then we went through a tunnel, and left the snow behind the hill. 

We stopped for a coffee at a art gallery cafe which had a balcony with views over a river. I admired the various items on sale but didn't want to pay the high prices. Our coffees amused us. The sugar and napkins were in an intriguingly shaped holder, with a bent spoon and a piece of chocolate which looked like... well, have a look at the photo and you'll see! I greatly admired the spoon, and one of our hosts managed to convince the cafe to give one to me! +John was not so lucky with the holder, which is what he coveted. 

We visited a nearby church, perched on a hill. A cup of tea and fruit were offered as refreshments. Then we were off, this time to Shalom House. The church, St Francis', was greatly admired by all. On the outside it looks like an ugly industrial building. Inside is a beautiful space. +John was keen that I took a number of photos. Underneath the church (originally built to serve a leper colony) is a graveyard. Most Koreans are cremated, not buried, and the urns are deposited into small receptacles. Behind the doors (which often have a small wreath and a photo of the deceased) other personal items are placed around the urn. 

We had a tour of the centre, which seeks to assist migrant workers. There is a large furniture making industry in the area, and 80% of the workers come from other Asian countries. When we went down to the coffee shop we were asked not to photograph the migrants who came to talk to us. Much to our surprise the group photo taken earlier in the church had already been processed, and each of us was given a copy! (The Koreans do like their group photos.)

Unfortunately we ran out of time to visit a nearby welfare centre. But some of the staff joined us for dinner. We had another meal of lovely Korean BBQ. I declined the offer of rice wine and thought longly of beer. Well, there must be a God. One of our hosts asked me if I wanted a beer! A few minutes later +John said I suddenly seemed perky again. 'I have beer!" I told him happily.

Then back to Seoul. At night you can see all the crosses marking where a church stands, most of them made of red lights. A few are blue. We got back to the retreat house near the Cathedral at 9pm. 

Photos are here.

9 April

Packed my carry on bag for our overnight stay at a retreat house in the hills. I got teased about the size, but it's the smallest bag I have!

On route we stopped at a centre in Guri which does a lot of work with the impaired, physically and mentally. The director first gave us a presentation (Powerpoint slides all in Korean!) which was translated for her. There were biscuits on the table which were very moorish, but difficult to remove from their plastic wrappers. See, I knew it was a good idea to bring my Swiss Army knife! The scissors came in very handy.

We had a tour of the facility. Since we've seen so little of the Cowleys on this blog I tried to get a number of photos of Liz and Dave. We saw the work the disabled were doing putting together components for air conditioners, and also looked in on the children experiencing physical therapy in the pool. 

Lunch was at a local Japanese restaurant. This meant lots of courses of raw seafood. Raw fish salad, raw prawns, raw sea bass... Fortunately I can eat raw stuff (just hope I don't regret it in the morning) but +John was struggling. When the fried prawns arrived, however, we all dove into them with relief. So much so that our hosts ordered another plateful for us! By the way, I blush to mention it, but yet again I was commended on my chopstick skills. I think I need to add a line to my CV. 'Can handle chopsticks like a pro.'

The final course was a very spicy soup, red with chilli powder. Quentin amazed all of us (and perhaps himself) by downing it all. He did turn quite red as a result, and only time will tell whether he'll regret it in the morning.

We had a coffee (black) back in the boardroom, and were given the gift of a bottle of dried flowers to be used for tea making. Well, +John got two bottles. 

Then back out to the people mover (which is bright orange, by the way) for the hour's drive to the Franciscan retreat house. We were having quite a merry time in the people carrier, trading put downs, sharing stories, telling jokes. So when the vehicle stopped and +John was ejected (he's to stay with the brothers at the bottom of the drive, we're in the house at the top) we all felt rather bereft. Our happy band of pilgrims had been split up!

The rooms are Korean style. The bed is a mattress on the floor, near the wardrobe and the desk. Slippers are again in operation, except for the twist that you are to only wear socks in the sleeping area. Those of us in this upper house made hot drinks and sat down with a Korean priest to work out how to save the Anglican church. 

After an hour we gave it up as a lost cause and went to our rooms. I understand that an episcopal fan of this blog likes the writing despite the lack of photos, so I have been working hard on getting these processed up to date. It takes time to run the RAW files through Photoshop! 

+John walked up hill to join us, and two of the brothers, for dinner. Now it was my turn for a light meal. The main course was pork in a chilli sauce, and I cannot eat spicy things. After dinner we all had a coffee and sat around the wood burner. Around 8pm we retreated to our rooms. 

Photos from today are here. I'm actually now up to date!

8 April

Had an hour of non sleep in the night, but felt okay in the morning. 

The first item on the schedule was a two meeting with various people from Seoul Diocese, including the Archbishop, to discuss the twinning relationship and to plan the June visit of Korean clergy to Peterborough Diocese. I had promised to behave so I listened and took notes, writing down little comments as an alternative to saying them out loud. Coffee was served--black, which is the usual way it comes in Korea. We also had small dishes of various edibles, some of which I ate and some of which I avoided. 

The history of the relationship thus far was outlined, and areas in which our two dioceses could work together. Lay ministry training is one of them (that's why Quentin and I are here!). Liz also brought up youth, and ways in which their youth (who would be willing to work for room and board, if possible) and ours could meet each other. Liz also brought up the ministry of ordained women. We were asked how many women priests there are in Peterborough Diocese, and a ripple of reaction went through the room when +John told them that a third of our clergy are women. Seoul Diocese has around 130 clergy and only 10 are women. Two are nuns in this convent. 

At the end I was asked if I'd anything to add, as I'd been quiet thus far! I told them that, in Peterborough Diocese, I'm known for talking a lot, so I'd hoped to show another side of my character. (The truth is that Liz covered the link aspects, +John spoke on bishopy things, Quentin spoke on lay ministry training, so I didn't really see anything I could usefully add. And, as I've written earlier, I was trying to behave well!)

After the meeting +John, Quentin and I were taken off to visit several of their social work programmes. Liz had seen these before, so she stayed at the retreat house to do some work and to later meet up with a Korean friend. So, sorry all you Cowley fans out there, yet again I'll have little to write about Liz and Dave.

Our first stop was at a nursing home. The staff were lined up outside to greet us, and a large banner was stretched over the entrance. I got busy taking photographs. We had lunch in their canteen. I ate the seaweed soup (quite liked it) and the rice and salad. The jelly made from acorns did not appeal (Quentin ate it but did not want a second portion) nor most of the other items. Not that it did me any harm to have a light lunch. One of those depressing poems was written in English on the wall:

Human & Love

To meet to know to love and then to part,                                                                                                                                                                that is the sad tale of human beings.

After a short presentation, accompanied by a sweet Korean tea and black coffee, we had a tour of the facility. Traditionally family looked after their elderly, but this is breaking down. So the church funds homes such as these. Both +John and Quentin did pastoral things whilst I did photographic things. 

We went on to see work the church is doing with the homeless. Quite rightly I was asked not to take any photos of the men they were helping. The church runs a number of night shelters, offering extra beds in the winter. The men go out during the day looking for work, and then come back if they are not chosen that day. There is also a clinic to treat tuberculosis. Seems the disease had nearly been eradicated in the country, but the economic downturn has brought it back again. There is a football team made up of homeless men, called 'Hope FC' and I took a photo of +John holding one of the team shirts. During this visit we had persimmon tea. Very tasty, and rather chewy.

Our next stop was at a church which is set in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Seoul. They run various programmes for the vulnerable there. We had sweet instant coffee here. Yes, before you ask, we also had various loo breaks. Plus we were constantly taking off our outdoor shoes to put on slippers, even in the shelters.

Last visit was to a workshop which employs the mentally impaired. They stuff envelopes and work in a carpentry shop. There was a member of the lesser spotted female clergy at this programme. We were given beautiful holding crosses, and +John had the impressive idea of asking the female priest to bless his. So Quentin and I followed suit. 

We had half an hour back at the retreat house before we went out for dinner. We had ginseng chicken soup, which consists of half a chicken, stuffed with rice, boiled in broth with ginseng. A clear spirit was the drink to accompany the dish, and I sipped it with great caution. Quentin showed great dexterity with the chopsticks, for which I took all the credit.

Afterwards we went on to see the show 'Nanta.' Our hosts had bought us the VIP seats on the front row, so we had a great view of the activity. The back story is of three cooks who have an hour to put together a wedding feast. They are joined by the nephew of the manager. The various cooking implements are used to provide percussion music. There was a lot of dancing, humour, audience participation, and vegetables thrown everywhere. We all enjoyed it, and we were also grateful that none of us were called on stage!

Rain had started to fall when we left. Thomas, one of our hosts, found us shelter and called two taxis to get us back to the retreat house.

Photos from today are here.

7 April

Had a good night's sleep and felt all the better for it. Watch out world! Even better, we woke to sunshine, and the remaining clouds cleared during the day.

This morning breakfast was not in silence. However this was a mixed blessing as Quentin and +John proceeded to talk football. Fortunately it doesn't take me long to eat porridge and slices of orange.

This morning our party was being split. The Cowleys were going to Incheon Neadong Church for the 11am Eucharist (Liz to preach) and Quentin, +John and I were going to Suwon Church for their 10.30am service (Quentin to preach). I had expressed a preference not to robe so I could take photos of the service, and +John agreed. I would have robed if so instructed--according to +John canonical obedience runs from 7am to 10pm on Sundays. 

It was a ninety minute drive to the city of Suwon, which has over a million inhabitants. St Stephen's Anglican Church was a large complex, with an office area, a boardroom (in which we met the Vicar who is also an Archdeacon), a room for Sunday School, a large conference room, and the church itself. All this is spread over several floors, with the church near the top. The church is a modern building, and I sat in the front row (very unAnglican of me) for photographic reasons.

I adored the worhsip. Modern catholic, with incense and the priest sang the preface and other parts of the Eucharistic prayer. Although all of it was in Korean the structure was very familiar. As were a number of the hymns! Quentin preached a paragraph at a time, pausing for the interpreter to repeat the paragraph in Korean. He was applauded at the end, which he did not let us forget. It didn't help when we were told later that no preacher at that church had ever been applauded before. So +John and I wondered aloud whether the translator had preached a different sermon...

The congregation gathered after the service to eat lunch together in the large conference room. However, we clergy and a few lay officers went into a separate room for our lunch. The clergy wives brought in salads (mixed greens and fruit), rice, and potato salad sandwiches before they left us. So I was the only woman in the room. Quentin continued in his quest to master the art of the chopsticks, and +John was given a lesson by a Korean on the appropriate pincher movement. Needless to say I was once again praised for my own dexterity with the metal rods.  My companions tell me that I have mentioned this a few times now. 

After lunch we were taken to the Jeam-ri March 1st Movement Memorial Hall. In summary the complex marked the place where the Japanese destroyed a village and massacred a number of the villagers. We first watched an introductory video (in English), then viewed two sets of exhibits in rather freezing rooms. Outside we visited the common tomb for the martyrs. I was reminded of museums I have only recently visited in South Africa regarding the Apartheid regime. No country has a monopoly on cruelty. 

We returned to Suwon and visited the Hwaseong Haenggung Palace. A demonstration of spear wielding and sword fighting was under way outside, and we managed to watch the tail end of the performance (through a thick crowd). Then we went into the palace. A small craft fair was inside, and all three of the English visitors (yes, I include myself in that number!) bought from a pottery stall. 

We walked through the palace and then up the hill. At the top we went onto a dragon train thing which took us around the city walls. I did my best to get some photographs--through the trees, the tall grasses, the people sitting on their bicycles... At the end of the ride we walked past one tower. At the bottom we were amused by a 'Photo zone.' A brass plate inserted into the path showed the photographer to stand, and a bronze outline of two feet further away showed where the second person should pose in front of the gate. I acted as photographer and +John obliged as the subject. By this time the cold wind was beginning to numb hands and ears.

The two Koreans who had accompanied us now took us to a restaurant, where the clergy and officers we'd met that morning joined us. We sat in a separate room. The beef was grilled over charcoal in pits in the middle of the table, and many side dishes filled the space around. I normally eat very little meat (perhaps once a week) and I don't find that I miss it. However, this beef dish was one of the tastiest I've ever eaten. Our hosts showed us that you are meant to take a piece of the thinly sliced meat, add a slice of garlic clove(!), and wrap it into a salad leaf. Erm, yes, you use your fingers for this. The main chopstick challenge was liberating raw crab from its shell. You are permitted to use a spoon to help without any demerit points being applied.

After eating far too much of that gorgeous beef we were driven back to Seoul. 

Photos from today are here.

6 April

I fell asleep quite well at 11pm Korean time. Then I woke up at 2am and could do little more than doze. I must have fallen asleep again at some point because my alarm woke me at 6.30am.

Perhaps this is an appropriate time to mention the Korean slipper fixation. I have a pair I'm supposed to use in the room, another pair for the toilet room, and when I went to the shower room there was yet another set there. As the retreat house has underfloor heating I'm enjoying the opportunity to walk around barefoot. This seemed to horrify one Korean this morning, who when she saw me in the coffee area outside my room rushed up to me with a pair of slippers.

As usual I'd brought some ground coffee and a cafetiere with me. So I made myself a couple of cups of real coffee hoping that would jump start the brain. +John's room is next door to mine, and he told me later that morning that he'd thought of asking me to make him a cup. I told him that I don't think canonical obedience comes into force before 9am, and he reflected that a bishop probably doesn't look very authoritative in his pajamas anyway.

We had breakfast (thankfully silent!) with the nuns in the breakfast room. I had a slice of toast and half of a large apple. Cereal and slices of some processed meat were on offer, as well as some large rice noodle, but I declined. The real coffee they served had a wonderful tang although I was unable to identify the spice.

We had an hour's meeting with several of the nuns. They explained their history and their hopes. Lovely women, delighted with the Twinings English Breakfast tea Liz had brought over. I was trying very hard not to nod off in the warm room. I did find an interesting answer to a simple question. When asked how old was the convent's oldest nun, it emerged that whereas we Westerners count the years of our lives as from birth the South Koreans count it from conception. As the nuns pointed out, you spend perhaps the most important part of your life in your mother's womb, so why would you not count that as one of your years of life?

Afterwards it was a quick drive to a local hotel. There we joined a tour visiting the Korean Demilitarized Zone. We'd woken to rain and it didn't let up all day. So I worked on photos on the laptop whilst the coach took us to our lunch stop. We had a beef stew similar to our lunch yesterday. Once back on the coach our guide reminded us of the very strict rules. No photography except where we were given explicit permission. No pointing at anyone or anything. If a North Korean waved at us we were not to wave back.

We stopped for about ten minutes at the Freedom Bridge, where I had to balance umbrella and camera in order to take photos. The battered steam engine interested me, of course. 

The DMZ is a place of agriculture and nature. We saw sodden rice fields and a grey heron. I followed orders and didn't take any photos. We had to sign a release form and then transfer to another bus. We weren't allow to take any bags or umbrellas, just a coat and an uncovered camera.

We got out at the Joint Security Area and were lined up outside the main building on the South Korean side. Here we were permitted to take photos of the North Korean side, but not to turn around to take photos of the South Korean side. Several South Korean soldiers stood absolutely still in the rain as they watched activity in the North Korean building not far away. For their part a new North Koreans appeared. 

We also went inside the building in which meetings are held between both sides--the building straddles the boundary. Our guide pointed out that it's the only place in which we can cross freely over into the North Korean side and back again. The soldiers on duty inside remained statue still, even when people posed next to them for photographs.

The visit concluded with a stop at a well stocked gift shop. You can even buy a whole military uniform for your toddler (photos of beaming two year old boys in khaki and sunglasses). I bought a mug and a sew on badge, my usual souvenirs. Then it was around a 90m minute drive back to Seoul, and I did fall asleep at my seat.

We were met and walked back to the hotel, taking an underground route to avoid the wind which had now come to accompany the rain. 

Thirty minutes later we met up for our formal welcome dinner. I'd put on my colourful South African clerical shirt and a suit jacket. We were hosted by a number of people from the Korean Anglican Church, including their Archbishop. Words of welcome were spoken, both bishops had a turn, and Liz proposed a toast. Rice wine flowed freely, but not into my glass. Something about it just doesn't appeal to me, so I drank lots of a very weak tea.

Again we had traditional Korean dishes. Course after course appeared. I found new challenges for my chop stick skills (which were once again commented upon favourably) in the form of a large prawn and some delicious, thin cut beef. I ate octopus for the first time in years and managed to work out just in time that the green things under one item were pine needles and therefore not meant for consumption.

A few of us went on to a bar afterwards for a beer. The guidebook war between me and +John now stands at 5 all as we compared notes over beer (me) and coffee (him). Then back to the retreat house. +John, who prefers to cope without an umbrella, found our South Korean hosts insistent that they must hold an umbrella over his head. I joked that they'd probably go back to their houses tut tutting that Peterborough Diocese clergy don't look after their bishops!

I do hope I sleep better tonight.

Photos from today are here.

5 April

The flight was unremarkable. We hit some turbulence at one point. I can also assure Mrs Holbrook that her husband, who was sitting just behind me, carried out his leg exercises several times during the flight. 

We landed at 8am local time (which is eight hours ahead of UK time). Two of our hosts were waiting for us, so I bowed and tried unsuccessfully to remember the Korean for 'hello.' However the word 'coffee' was welcome to hear. We had a very nice cup whilst waiting for the third Korean to arrive. I was however disturbed by the following (poem?) on the cardboard insulation:

gout de ciel

Here’s an example from a butterfly an example                                                                                                                                                                                    that it can lie happy on a hard rock                                                                                                                                                                           An example that it can lie on this unsweetened                                                                                                                                                    stone friendlessly and all alone now let my bed                                                                                                                                                               I do not care.       

If anyone can explain this I'd be very grateful...

Our luggage was loaded into a people carrier, and Quentin and I rode in this vehicle. The Cowleys and +John rode in a separate car. During the hour long drive into Seoul Quentin and I devised a brilliant plan which would successfully educate all lay people, revolutionise the Church, and bring about world peace. Then we woke up from our jet lag as we arrived at the retreat house where we will be staying.

The retreat house is part of the convent which is next door to Seoul Cathedral. There was great amusement as we were handed the keys to our rooms. Each room is named after a virtue, and these were assigned as follows:

Me--Goodness                       Quentin--Humility                       The Cowleys--Patience                       +John--Peace

Which just proves that God has a well developed sense of humour.

We had around 90 minutes to freshen ourselves. The hot water (for showers) is only on for three hours in the morning and the evening, so it was less of a refreshen that I might have wished for. From my many experiences of jet lag I knew it was best just to keep awake and keep going, with the hope of crashing into sleep at the appropriate local time. 

We walked through an underground passageway and then through a shopping centre to a restaurant for lunch. It took me a few minutes into the walk to realise what I wasn't seeing. There is no graffiti anywhere. I am so used to seeing scrawls on city walls that Seoul seems somehow nude. We joked briefly that perhaps we should change things, perhaps painting a 'Peterborough woz 'ere'. Then better judgement prevailed. Jet lag does do strange things to your brain.

The restaurant served traditional Korean food, and I loved it. From the pumpkin soup to the pickled cabbage to the sweet and sour pork to the marinated beef which was cooked in a stew on a hot plate in the middle of the table, I absolutely loved it. Although I'm not a vegetarian I don't eat much meat, so I liked the way the meat was accompanied by plenty of green stuff. I also impressed our Korean hosts with my advanced chopstick skills. My parents started to take us to a Chinese restaurant when I was around 12 years old, so I've had years of experience. Korean chopsticks are metal, which is a bit tricky as it's a more slippery surface than wooden chopsticks. 

We returned briefly to the retreat house to collect cameras. The Cowleys opted for a rest, so Quentin, +John and I were taken on a walking tour into Seoul by Thomas, one of our hosts. The weather was comfortably warm, shirt sleeve temperatures, although the sky was mostly overcast. What I find a bit strange is that the city doesn't seem to have a smell to it. No ozone tang. Perhaps that develops in the summer.

We walked past statues honouring important men in Korea's history. The first was of Yi Sun Sin, a naval commander who won many victories against the Japanese. He died in 1598 and is considered to have been a naval genius. Rather appropriately water fountains lead up to his statue.

The next statue honours King Sejong, who died in 1450. King Sejong encouraged advancements in science and also oversaw the creation of Hangul, the Korean written language. The latter was a major achievement which opened literacy to the masses. 

We continued down the main road to the Gyeongbokgung Palace. We arrived just in time to see the changing of the guard, which was a wondrous sight of colourful uniforms and flags, accompanied by the deep notes of large drums and the blare of trumpets. Then we went into the complex itself, which consists of building after beautifully decorated building. Sadly the skies were just growing more and more grey. As we walked through we saw a large helicopter fly overhead in order to deliver the President of South Korea to her official residence, the Blue House. 

After spending quite some time walking through the complex, Thomas took pity on our tired feet and treated us to coffees and rather delightful cakes. Seoul seems to be crowded with coffee shops and the coffee is, even to my snobbish taste buds, very good. Then Thomas proceeded to show us 'just one more thing' several times. We viewed the statue which Korean protesters have erected outside of the Japanese embassy in an attempt to compel Japan to recognise the suffering endured by the Korean 'comfort women.' Then on to a Buddhist temple. The worshippers there were repeatedly kneeling and bowing to the statues, and also running prayer beads through their hands. I was once again struck on how the adherents of differing religions find common practices in order to express themselves spiritually, such as kneeling in prayer and using chains of beads. Then a walk through the 'largest bookstore in Korea' before reaching the retreat house around 6pm.

We had half an hour to catch our breath before going out to a food outlet called 'b!bigo.' Traditional Korean food and, again, I loved it. I had a Korean lager and took a polite sip of the rice wine as I didn't want to mix the two. I also tried to educate Quentin on the art of the chopstick. He did eat part of his dinner with the metal pokers, then switched to a fork when starvation because a real threat. After dinner we went on to a cafe/drinking establishment where I had a small German wheat beer and we teased one of our Korean hosts about finding a suitable English suitor. 

+John and I each read a different book about South Korea in preparation for our trip, and we've been making comparisons as to which book mentioned what aspect of Korean history or culture. At the moment it's running 4: 3 in favour of my book. His book didn't mention the match making culture in South Korea. 

We returned to the retreat house around 9pm. Our hosts, looking at the forecast for rain tomorrow, have kindly bought for each of us a rain poncho and a small umbrella. I'm determined to stay up to 11pm Korean time to try to force my body into the new time zone. 

We have a small coffee/tea station outside the landing of our rooms. The disposable coffee cup there have this printed on one side:

Never Ending Wonderful Story

I'm one step behind every step you take Each time I reach I just seems to fade away                                                                                       But with every speck of light, I fight the breaking need to try Day will break the nite                                                                                              And the light will find my way In a dream I'm sure I saw it all  The tides that fail and rise again, and again                                                     Well maybe it's just me, caught in desperation to Fight this helpless falling sensation I won't let this take me down                                     The first hand that you can let go Then and only then will you see why you've held on

I plan to look closely at all disposable coffee cups I come across here in South Korea to see if I can find more of these strange prose poems. 

Photos from today are here.

4 April 2013

Before I blog, some explanations!

The Church of England Diocese in which I work, the Diocese of Peterborough, has a link with the Diocese of Seoul, South Korea. The Diocese of Seoul would like some input into their training of lay ministers, and as I undertake such training in Peterborough Diocese I was invited to come to Seoul. The following are in the group from Peterborough:

Me--Director of Studies for Lay Ministry Training                Quentin Chandler--Principal of Lay Ministry Training

John Holbrook, Bishop of Brixworth                                         Liz Cowley, Link person from Peterborough Diocese

Dave Cowley--Liz's husband (for whom this is holiday!)

The Cowleys picked me up at 8.10am, and we arrived at Purple Parking in good time. By 10.40am we were in Terminal 5, and met up with Quentin and +John. For those who are unaware of such traditions, it is customary in the Anglican Church that bishops, and only bishops, wear purple. This makes +John easy to spot in a crowd, and also makes me think of the 'red shirts' in the original 'Star Trek' series. Remember, the red shirt guys were always the ones who died at the beginning of an episode? For some reason +John did not find this analogy comforting.

The others sailed through security. For my sins, I was thoroughly frisked three times. That'll teach me to make comments about distinctive shirts. 

+John had to put his shoes through the security scanner, and at some point during the process a shoelace was snapped. After much investigation we can inform the public that, yes, you can find shoelaces for sale in Heathrow Terminal 5. Boots sells them. Somehow that seems appropriate...

I was quite smug in the knowledge that I always carry a spare set of shoelaces. Along with a first aid kit and spare glasses. It was shortly after we took off from Heathrow that I realised what I hadn't packed. During all that careful folding of clerical shirts for the journey at no point whatsoever did I think that perhaps I should pack a dogcollar or two to slip into said shirts. +John has gracefully loaned me his spare dogcollar. 

That'll teach me to make smug comments about carrying spare items.

I tried to get some sleep on the 'plane and I watched the 'Doctor Who' episode 'The Angels Take Manhattan.'

Just a couple of photos here