Yeon Deung Hoe (Lotus Lantern Festival)

Friends from the service I worked in at Fort Leonard Wood showed up at my service in Yongsan (which was a nice surprise!) and invited me to go downtown with them to the Yeon Deung Hoe or Lotus Lantern Festival. This was the main weekend of a month-long celebration of the Buddha’s coming into the world (birthday). Attending the festival, at least for me, wasn’t an act of honoring or worshiping Buddha but rather of observing the cultural significance of Buddhism in Korea.

There were several downtown streets closed to vehicle traffic and lined with booths sponsored by different Buddhist orders. Much like many festivals in the U.S. there were crafts for children to make, teas to taste, temple foods to sample, and various causes to support.

There were large crowds everywhere. The smaller streets were more crowded.
There were large crowds everywhere. The smaller streets were more crowded.

The businesses and kiosks that normally line the streets were also open, providing a variety of Korean foods, arts and crafts, souvenirs and other special and routine products for sale.

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There was a main stage area in the center of the festivities where traditional Korean and, I assume, Buddhist performances were staged.

A Korean woman singing, with what resembled a conga line, though was probably supposed to be a dragon.
A Korean woman singing, with what resembled a conga line, though was probably supposed to be a dragon.

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Along the street, there were various ceremonies going on; some for people to watch, others for people to participate in.

Yeon Deung Hoe

Yeon Deung Hoe

Yeon Deung Hoe

And then there were street performers…

Yeon Deung Hoe
A couple of expats playing bluegrass.
Yeon Deung Hoe
This guy stands statute-still until someone puts money in his hat or approaches him.

There were also artists…

Yeon Deung Hoe

…and others needing assistance.

Yeon Deung Hoe

The festival was in the neighborhood of the large Jogye-sa Temple, which seemed to be a focal point of the festivities where people gathered in the temple to pray, participate in the Ceremony of Bathing Buddha and have their prayer requests attached to paper lanterns and hung over the Temple Square.

Yeon Deung Hoe
Decorations made of paper on the temple grounds
Jogye-sa temple
The Jogye-sa Temple
The Jogye-sa Temple
Inside the Jogye-sa Temple

The Jogye-sa Temple
Inside The Jogye-sa Temple
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Nice detailed painting on the outside of The Jogye-sa Temple
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Nice detailed painting on the outside of The Jogye-sa Temple
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Nice detailed painting on the outside of The Jogye-sa Temple
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Nice detailed painting on the outside of The Jogye-sa Temple

According to Buddhist, The Ceremony of Bathing Buddha is a ritual to improve happiness and peace of mind. The sign outside of the temple states the proper way of bathing Buddha is to fill the ladle and pour water over the small Buddha statue three times. While pouring the water, the participant is to say during the 1st wash, “May I eliminate all evil thoughts.” During the 2nd wash, “May I cultivate good deeds.” And during the 3rd wash, “May I help save all living beings.”

Jogye-sa Temple
A Buddhist adherent participating in the Ceremony of Bathing Buddha
Jogye-sa Temple
There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of lanterns hanging all over the temple grounds with prayer requests from Buddhist adherents (and they’re pretty…)
Yeon Deung Hoe
Some of the floats from the parade the night before, on the temple grounds.
Yeon Deung Hoe
Some of the floats from the parade the night before, on the temple grounds.

All over the festival area there were lanterns made of hanji, which is a traditional handmade Korean paper made from mulberry bark. Most were very unique and detailed, beautiful works of art which reminded me of the variety of kites in the U.S.

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All along the streets and booths were varied and plenteous food offerings.

Yeon Deung Hoe
We passed several Turkish Ice Cream stands.
Yeon Deung Hoe
The dipping and serving was very entertaining.
Yeon Deung Hoe
And it was good ice cream
Yeon Deung Hoe
I did NOT try the octopus on a stick!
Yeon Deung Hoe
I did try a hot dog on a stick…covered in potatoes.
Yeon Deung Hoe
Hot Dog and French Fries in one hand. A convenient walking food!

We ate lunch at a small Korean seafood restaurant where we had a good sampling of fish and pancakes.

I'm not sure of the name of the restaurant we ate at, it may say it here...
I’m not sure of the name of the restaurant we ate at, it may say it here…
... or here.
… or here.
Jamie and Robyn and their two children, a family I got to know at Ft. Leonard Wood who recently arrived at USAG Yongsan. We ate at a little restaurant down a few side streets near the festival.
Jamie and Robyn and their two children, a family I got to know at Ft. Leonard Wood who recently arrived at USAG Yongsan. We ate at a little restaurant down a few side streets near the festival.
We ordered 2 or 3 different fish and a seafood pancake which turned out to be octopus.
We ordered 2 or 3 different fish and a seafood pancake which turned out to be octopus.
Our meal also came with the usual variety of side dishes.
Our meal also came with the usual variety of side dishes.

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Part of the fun of going to a festival is what you bring home. Here are a few things I picked up while walking around the area:

Korean art on rice paper
A painting of a traditional Korean village scene painted on rice paper.
Korean Mother of Pearl Box
I picked up this box at the Temple Gift Shop. “Mother-of-Pearl (najeon or jagae in native Korean) is a highly intricate decorative technique whose tradition in Korea has been kept alive for more than a thousand years. Pearl oyster, conch, and abalone shells are filed to reveal the iridescent inner layers. Thin strips are then inlaid into a black lacquered surface. The whole thing is pained again, and then the excess lacquer is carefully filed away to reveal the brillian and translucent colors of different patterns. Thus the common expression ‘najeon chilgi,’ where ‘chil’ means ‘painting.’
          Najeon chilgi is not just about shiny shells. Shell’s brillian colors come alive because of the pitch-black lacquer. Its true beauty is revealed not under bright lights, but under dim candle light or delicate sunlight seepin through Korean traditional windows covered in Korean paper ‘Light etched into darkness.’ Najeon chilgi is a thousand-year-old light of nature, the most intricate and beautiful of traditional lacquer-ware, and an applied art that represents Korea’s beautiful traditional aesthetics.”
The Temple Gift Shop had these paper models of the Four Heavenly Kings for sale and one of the booths in the festival were giving them away. I got the free ones, though I came home with just 2 of the Four Heavenly Kings. According to Buddhism, The Four Heavenly Kings are “gods” who watch over the four cardinal directions of the world. They are said to be the protectors of the world who fight evil and able to command a legion of supernatural creatures to protect the Dharma.
Four Heavenly Kings Jogye-sa Temple
A near life size stand up of one of The Four Heavenly Kings on the complex of Jogye-sa Temple.
Two of the Four Heavenly Kings at the Jogye-sa Temple complex.

 

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Military Intelligence Ball

Wherever you go in the military, a tradition that you experience is the military ball. Often annually, sometimes before or on return from deployment; units, schools and commands take the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishment of their mission, their safe return from combat, or continued alliances with coalition partners.

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Tonight, my brigade sponsored the ball for the Intelligence community in South Korea, with guests and participants from both U.S. and ROK forces. With over 700 in attendance it was quite the event. As with most ceremonies and events, as the brigade chaplain I was called upon to pray…twice.  Here are some pictures from the evening (though a combination of the lighting and using my phone/camera mean they’re not that great):

2016 MI Ball Seoul
Walking into the ballroom, the crowd is already mingling.

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Red Dragon ice sculpture
A “Red Dragon” ice sculpture. My brigade is called the “Red Dragons”

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2016 MI Ball Seoul
The tables were all set nicely (I only drank the water)

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2016 MI Ball Seoul Knowlton Awards
A number of Soldiers, from the U.S. and ROK, received the “Knowlton Award,” given by the Military Intelligence Corps Association.

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2016 MI Ball Seoul COL Arnold
The Brigade Commander welcomed the ball guests and introduced the speakers

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2016 MI Ball Seoul
Commander of the ROK Intelligence Command addressed the crowd

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2016 MI Ball Seoul MG Ballard
MG Christopher Ballard, the USFK J2 was the keynote speaker

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2016 MI Ball Seoul
You can’t really see them, but a baritone quartet from the Korean Military Drill Team provided entertainment.

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2016 MI Ball Seoul
The K-Pop group Switch Berry was there to entertain the youngins.

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2016 MI Ball Seoul Chaplain Densford
Here I am praying the closing prayer. There aren’t usually pictures of me…I guess everyone is usually praying!

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2016 MI Ball Seoul MG Ballard Chaplain Densford
Me with MG Ballard, whose father was a chaplain

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COL Arnold Chaplain Densford
Me with my Brigade Commander, COL Arnold

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Chaplain Densford Chaplain Dietz
Me with one of my Battalion Chaplains, Maya Dietz

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Chaplain Densford Chaplain Blake
Me with another of my Battalion Chaplains, Brian Blake

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Chaplain Densford, Dietz, Blake
Me with the two Battalion Chaplains of mine who were at the ball. The other one couldn’t be there because he attended the Aviation Ball the night before with his battalion, and he and his wife were babysitting tonight so Soldiers from his battalion could attend the MI Ball without the expense and difficulty of a babysitter.

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Ceremony prayers aren’t that exciting since people don’t come for the prayers, but here are the two I prayed at the MI Ball tonight:

First, the Invocation:

Dear Gracious Heavenly Father,

I thank you for this day you have given us and for this occasion that we gather together to celebrate the alliance which exists between the United States and the Republic of Korea, particularly tonight- in the Intelligence community.

We realize that it is our ability to work together that preserves the armistice and protects the freedom and independence of our friends.

I thank you for all of those involved in this task before us, from the newest private to the most experienced officer, and pray for each of them that they will be protected as they perform their duties but also that they will be blessed because of the significance of our mission.

I pray now that you will be with us tonight as we celebrate the successful, continued, execution of our mission and the alliance we enjoy with each other. Bless this time with your presence and bless each one here gathered.

In your holy name I pray, Amen.

Then the Benediction or closing prayer:

Dear Father:

Thank you for this time that we’ve had together: The honors, the entertainment, the laughs, and the good food.

Thank you again for all of those here, and all the others who are serving both in uniform and as civilians, in the defense of freedom in the Republic of Korea and around the world.

Thank you also for your presence with us here this evening so far, and as we continue to celebrate. I pray that you will continue to be with us, both those here and those traveling home.

Finally, Lord, I pray that you will provide safety tonight and in the days ahead. And I pray that you will especially bless the Republic of Korea and the United States of America as we live and serve together.

In your name I pray, Amen.

 

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