I like Kurt Vonnegut because of his simplicity. He made me think that I don’t need to use a thesaurus when writing. That what I wanted to say would be better off unclouded by unnecessary trimmings. He writes about deeply flawed men, often set within the backdrops of a forgotten Americana. He makes beautiful stories that pique the imagination of readers. I like Kurt Vonnegut because he seems like a kind person. No other time will you catch a person at his most vulnerable than in writing. He puts emphasis in stylistic descriptions of the most mundane things. Those that are often overlooked. Like good authors, his book ceases to be his, rather it becomes a Rorschach test of sorts. is he telling you a story about assisted suicide in the year 2050 or is it a larger commentary on society? And most importantly, I like him for his advice from Bagombo Snuff Box, “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”
If someone were to ask me what my most favorite place in the world would be, I would answer, without skipping a beat, it is Mihwangsa Temple. Located in a curious county that roughly translates to Land’s End. if you care to know why, I have to start with describing how I got there, and even before that. I have to tell you about the lady that sold me the bus ticket to Haenam. She didn’t speak English, just as much as I could not speak Korean. There’s a tiny plastic humidifier in her desk, it released air and her face was enveloped in a cloud of mist just as when she says “Bus 45” and points to a location about a kilometer from where we were.
To this day I can’ tell you how I managed to find a tiny bus stop in the middle of sandy streets and decrepit buildings.
We awoke with the sound of gongs. The nights at Mihwangsa are exceptionally quiet, so when a monk passes by, carrying the soft thuds of his drum with him, it was impossible to not be lulled away from sleep. It was 5am and I walked, barely awake, to the temple to start the Yebul, our morning chant. Monks would sing from the recesses of their throats, in an inimitable guttural sound, prayers for getting to live another day. We would then express our devotion by prostrating, a complex series of movements that culminates in an elegant bow. Meditation, in the lotus position, would start thereafter, and only after this would we be deemed ready to start our day.
During breakfast, after one of my many Yebuls in this tiny temple. Jajae, my host, whispered that today would be the perfect time for me to create my Buddhist prayer necklace. Each bead equals to one prostration, and one prostration meant a single devotion. A necklace would amount to 108 beads.
Jajae gave me some thread, the 108 beads encased in a small plastic bag, a sample Prayer Necklace to make sure I don’t mess up, and finally, a devotion book that she hopes I take to heart. She then told me to go in the temple and do my prostrations properly.
In the harsh light of a winter’s noon, somehow, the temple seems less magical. My first time here was close to midnight, with only the soft humming of a laboring space heater to accompany Jajae’s voice. She told me about the history of Mihwangsa- the temple where the cow’s bell tolls. The lore is that a long time ago, a magnificent golden cow appeared within the mountains of Ttangkeut, a small hamlet near the sea. The people heard the cow’s bellows, which they declared to be the most beautiful sound they ever heard. They paraded the cow, until one day it died. The spot of land where the golden cow died is where the Mihwangsa Temple sits today.
I gave Jajae my finished necklace. She nodded and asked me how I felt. I dunno how to feel. I feel like an adult who made a macaroni necklace. Should I be proud of something when I didn’t really know what I did or even, why? L’esprit de l’escalier, I should have been honest, at the very least she would have probably said it was okay. Instead I just summed up everything into a succinct, “it was fun”