Land of the Morning Calm

4 11 2009

South Korea is sometimes called “The Land of the Morning Calm.” This originates from the Joseon Dynastry which was established by military coup in 1392. The Chinese characters for Joseon (朝鮮) were often translated into English as, “morning calm,” and thus one of Korea’s nicknames became “The Land of the Morning Calm.”

Now anyone who has resided in Seoul for any length of time will tell you that “calm,” is not really the first word that pops to mind, when describing it. Between hurry-hurry culture, the florescent jacketed ajuma brigade and 25 million inhabitants living, working, eating and socializing virtually 24-7, “calm” and “Seoul” would seem to be nothing short of polar opposites.

I, however, have done the impossible, and found a bastion of calm and serenity in the middle of this crazy city. And yes, while this may seem rather cliche, this bastion of stillness is none other than 6:30AM yoga classes at the Yoga Palace in Apujeong.

The Yoga Palace focuses on real Bikram yoga, which is definitely not to be confused with the multitude of other “hot” yoga studios in Seoul. A REAL Bikram yoga class is taught by an instructor who has been certified by Bikram himself (yes, he’s a person). It entails a very specific series of postures, which are conducted in a very particular way, for a set period of time, in a 40 degree Celsius room. Each class is 90 minutes long, and is designed not only to improve your flexibility, but also to detoxify and cleanse your system.

In Toronto, I took both REAL Bikram yoga classes at a studio downtown, and “fake” hot yoga classes at another studio in midtown. Believe me, there was a huge difference in how I felt during and after the classes, so finding an authentic Bikram yoga studio in Seoul was really important to me.

Yoga Palace is owned by 3 Thai siblings: Fame, Fair and Ball. Ball was the Bishnu Gosh international yoga asana champion in 2008, so you can imagine what the quality of the classes is. You can see a video of his winning postures here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwZTgPCln-k. And you can check out Yoga Palace here: http://www.yoga-palace.com

Initially, waking up at 6AM just to go to yoga class, seemed like a tremendous sacrifice, especially since I don’t have a “j-o-b,” and have the luxury of sleeping in all day if I choose. But after the first tough week of transition, I must say, that I began to look forward to these 6AM sojourns. At this time of the day, most of Seoul is still asleep, and the hush of a city on the cusp of coming alive has a wonder all it’s own. I am surprised on one of these mornings to see a uniformed and jacketed ajuma brigade sweeping the streets bit by bit with good ole fashioned brooms. I should have realized that the streets did not magically clean themselves, but still, I am amazed by this sight, and once again a little awed by the stubbornness and strength of the Korean ajuma.

On another morning, we see a flock of mini-skirted and high-heeled Korean girls, giggling and hailing a cab. It’s Monday morning, and they are just heading home from the night before, so again I am surprised and reminded that life, beautiful life, is happening while I have been slumbering peacefully.

Moments like this are strangely astonishing at the break of dawn, when you feel as though you could be the only star in the whole of the solar system.





Red Lights

3 08 2009

Korean drivers run red lights all the time. All of them do. Really. Scooter drivers, taxis…even public bus drivers. In fact, I may have even seen a few police cars run red lights. Not to mention that people seem to have no qualms about roaring on through the light in full view of said authority figures! I don’t get it? How did this start? and why is it so totally acceptable?

Personally, I think it’s great. Why should you wait at a red light when there’s no need to. I don’t think more accidents occur because people are doing this. I would even argue that less accidents occur because of this. You KNOW everyone does this, so you have to be constantly vigilant at intersections. Even as a pedestrian, you must be fully conscious of what’s happening around you. You can’t take it for granted that all the cars will stop just because you have a green walk signal. Actually, it’s quite likely that some scooter punk is going to swerve around you to save time.

But what is it with Koreans and the rush-rush all the time? Korea has been nicknamed the Italy of Asia, Land of the Morning Calm AND most appropriately balee-balee (hurry-hurry) culture.. Where are they all going in such a hurry? Surely, all 23 million inhabitants of metro Seoul are not late for an appointment?? On any given day, at any given moment, in any given situation, mothers across Seoul yell at their poor children balee-balee. Gesturing wildly, they trot across the street ahead of them…

…and maybe straight into a car running a red light if they are not careful!