The most exciting time
Some weeks are more interesting than others...

Songnisan

I don't usually spend the hour before I do a presentation strolling around a fifteen hundred year old temple complex, but I highly recommend it.  The Lake Hills Hotel (which has definitely seen better days) is just outside the gate of the Songnisan National Park, a stunning area of thickly forested mountains with dramatic rock outcrops jutting through the trees.  According to my Lonely Planet guide, the name means "Remote from the Ordinary World Mountain" and it is certainly remote from my ordinary world.

The temple complex, which is an easy ten minute walk from the hotel, is called Beopjusa.  At least one story goes that a Buddhist monk was on his way to India on pilgrimage, and at this spot his horse went lame, so he took that as a sign that he should stay and build a temple.  Portions of it have been burned and rebuilt a number of times over the centuries, and it continues to develop -- the very dramatic 30-meter high golden buddha statue on the grounds was just completed in 1990, for example.  But the statue stands next to Palsangjeon, the oldest five-story wooden pagoda in Korea, the original parts of which date back to the founding of the temple.

It was early when we were there, and except for a couple of attendants sweeping the porches of the pavilions, there was no one else around.  The weather was mild and humid, with a light fog at the tops of the mountain peaks.  A stream runs along the path from the town and cuts across the front gate of the temple, and one can look down at the small rock towers that the monks build as a meditative exercise.  On the way back, we passed a group of local women from the town, friends of the temple, who were out early, picking up bits of trash and fallen branches from the path, getting it all ready for the day's legion of tourists.

From there, we walked straight back into the conference room and the work of the day.  In Japan, I did one presentation in the morning, and the other after lunch.  Here, they were back to back.   In Japan, the translation was simultaneous, the team of translators hidden away in a booth, and I just had to be sure to speak slowly enough that they could keep up.  Here, it was alternate -- so I'd talk through the points of the slide while the translator made notes.  Then she'd repeat the substance of my comments to the group.  Fortunately, the translator, Soyeon Lee, is a professor of Library & Information Science at Duksung Women's University in Seoul, so she is very familiar with all of the concepts.  It took me awhile to fall into the right rhythm, but as my confidence in her grew during the course of the morning, I think I got the hang of it.  By the end -- three hours after I'd begun -- I felt that it had gone quite well.

The workshop attendees are eager for discussion, and they ask very long, multi-part questions.  We had time for a few before lunch, and then in the afternoon, after Joep finished up his part we had well over an hour of discussion, with questions for both of us.  It's an impressive group.  And just as in Japan, they face all of the same obstacles and challenges that we do in the states, but also as in Japan, I see the energy and intensity among some of these young librarians that convinces me they will overcome those obstacles.

I gave them a discussion assignment that they spent the evening working on.  Later this morning there'll be six group presentations.  Joep, Mr. Choi and I will be the judges and the winners get a cash award, so they're all taking this very seriously indeed.  I have high expectations for the quality of the presentations.

And then, this afternoon, the drive back to Seoul.  The sun is just now burning through the fog, so I think it'll be a pretty day and a nice afternoon for the drive...

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