The Lockers of Doom (and Buddha Festival)

Trip Start Dec 02, 2011
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16
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Trip End Dec 02, 2012


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Flag of Korea Rep.  , Seoul,
Sunday, May 20, 2012

Somehow, despite the sneaking feeling I would contract an STD just by spending the night there, I managed to get a few hours of sleep in my hotel. Even though the hotel wasn't a place for lounging, we were in no hurry to get started this morning and a few of my friends actually even braved the showers. Perhaps their rooms had been cleaned some time within the last month. Around noontime, we headed over to Jonggak Station (종각역) to visit the festival.

But first, we had do something with our bags and lanterns. The plan was to leave them in lockers in the station. It was a fairly big station in central Seoul, and we just had over night bags, so lockers shouldn't have been a problem. In fact, we found the first set of lockers just outside of the exit gate from the tracks. Unfortunately, these nice, shiny lockers were wrapped in plastic wrap.

After a bit of wandering and some fruitless questioning of a station janitor in horrible Konglish, we found the station information room, where we were directed to a set of lockers just inside exit 3. It was a bit far from the tracks, but that didn't seem to be a big deal.

The lockers, however, were fraught with problems. First, there weren't clear English instructions for all of the steps. Second, you needed a cell phone to use them. We had phones, so that wasn't a big deal, but it did make things unnecessarily complicated. Third, the credit card reader was broken, so you had to use cash. Also not a big deal, except both the bill taker and the coin slots were finicky. Fourth, the lockers were 6000 won each for the day, which meant we had to send someone to find change and small bills. That took a while since the exit was far from the core of the station. Fifth, the lockers were fairly small compared to the size of the lanterns, so we needed several of them. And sixth, which wasn't entirely the lockers' fault, one of my friends let hers close before we'd put anything in it, and it locked automatically. We had to use the access code to open it, but using the access code ended our day of rental. We didn't find that out until we returned in the afternoon. We assumed (or maybe hoped) a day meant a day, but I'll leave that until later since you're probably tired of hearing about the lockers at this point.

We had a snack for lunch while watching a grounp of Korean dancers take part in the unhappiest dress rehearsal in Seoul, where all of the performers looked as if they were about to cry from the director berating them. After that, we strolled towards Jogye-sa Temple (조계사) to visit the festival.

The festival was a collection of eclectic, but generally Buddhist-themed, groups and activities from around the world. There were booths of Buddhists from Nepal, Bhutan, Japan, Burma, Cambodia and other parts of Asia showing off a bit of their local flavor of Buddhism and/or culture. It was an interesting little bit of comparative culture, although nothing too in-depth. The most random, but enlightening, activity was a wheel chair obstacle course where you could attempt to navigate a wheel chair around and over the seemingly small obstacles that prove a big headache for those confined to a wheel chair.

Another unusual (to me) activity was a traditional Asian medicine booth offering moxibustion. Moxibustion involved placing small mounds of mugwort on various parts of the body (I assume acupuncture points) and burning them. I didn't feel the need to place burning mugwort (or burning anything else for that matter) on my hand, but a couple of my friends gave it a try. The process apparently hurt a bit and produced small blisters. On one of my friends, the blisters were gone fairly quickly. On the other, the blisters stayed and seemed to get worse throughout the day, to the point where she had to go into a pharmacy to get burn cream for them on the way home.

Apart from setting small fires on your hands, there was a large range of craft activities you could participate in including making lanterns, paper flowers, cards, candles, incense, woodblock prints and calligraphy. You could collect stamps as you tried things, and if you collected enough of them you could redeem your stamps for a prize. I think it was a t-shirt.

Other than a quick and simple woodblock printing, the only craft I tried was sewing a bag. I only chose the sewing because one of my friends wanted to do it, and I didn't see any harm in it. However, I hadn't actually sewn anything since probably 6th grade Home Ec class, and it was painfully tedious given my lack of skill. I probably would have given up after a minute of trying if my friend weren't there. The senior Korean manning the booth helpfully, or possibly disdainfully, intervened and sewed the final half of my bag for me so I'd finish before dinner time. I'm not sure I'd say it wasn't fun, but it was much more enjoyable watching the highly skilled seamstress in action up close than it was trying to sew the bag myself.

When we were finished with all of our crafting, we left the festival to do some shopping in another part of Seoul. After that, all we had to do was swing by the lockers and grab our stuff on the way out of town. Two of my friends went on ahead to Seoul station to buy train tickets while the rest of stopped by the lockers.

Unfortunately, while we were done with the lockers, they were not yet finished with us. Remember the locker my friend had accidentally let shut earlier in the day? Well that locker was now locked shut, but in the unrented mode. The lockers wouldn't open to allow you to put items into them until you'd paid to rent them. Since we'd used our code to reopen the locker after the accidental shutting, our rental had expired. If we wanted to open the locker again to remove our stuff, we'd have to rent it a second time.

We might have let it go and cut our losses, after all we had to catch a train, but my jacket was in there with the lanterns. I really didn't want to have to buy another jacket when we could just rent the locker again. 6000 won for a probably 30000 won jacket seemed a fair ransom to pay. But the lockers would not let us off so easily...

The bill slot that had barely worked earlier was now completely broken. We started to pay with change but when we got to 1100 won, I realized we weren't going to have enough. I decided to try paying with a credit card again, but the lockers didn't give us back our change when I hit the return lever. Because we were pressed for time, I had to sprint down the long hall back to the main station where a kind woman working the cupcake stand gave me a ton of coins without me even buying anything (I didn't know if we'd need the extra change), or being able to explain what was going on. (Incidentally, the security guard ignored me both times I ran by him. I would have expected a "Hey, slow down there!" or something.)

When I got back to the lockers, a Korean was unsuccessfully trying to help my friends use the bill slot. The had cobbled together enough change to make it to almost 5000 won. I gave them the last of the change we needed and triumphantly (well, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration) retrieved my jacket. I entered the access code again so the locker would return to the unrented state for the next person, bought a cupcake of gratitude, and we left the station with enough time to make our train out of Seoul.

Oh yeah, the nice new lockers that were in plastic this morning? When we left the station, they were newly unwrapped and operating.

Even though the lockers were annoying, they didn't ruin the day. While the festival wasn't totally awesome like last night's lantern parade, it was a decent way to spend the afternoon, especially if you like crafts or Buddhists. The one surprising thing missing from the festival was food. There were a couple of country-themed booths offering samples of their local food, but nothing really serious to eat. I don't know that I'd make a special trip to Seoul for the festival, but if you're planning to spend the night in Seoul after the parade anyway, the festival was a decent way to pass the time.

However, there were other things the birthday celebration had to offer, which we didn't get to see. In addition to the parade and the street festival, there were several more performances and cultural events taking place around the city. I would have liked to have gone to some of those, but it was too much for one weekend with work on Monday. The parade was definitely the highlight, but if I'm in Korea next year, I'll try to make it to some of those other events.

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