Today, one of my classmates asked me, “Do you have a word for summer like this? I mean, this kind of really, really hot summer weather?”
I thought a moment, trying to do a quick calculation of the balance between idiomatic and literal components in translation, and answered, “Yes. We call it dog summer.”
(What I was trying to convey was “the dog days of summer,” but that in literal Korean sounds ridiculous. Although “dog summer” sounds equally funny in English, coming back the other way.)
It is dog summer here. The monsoon seems to be winding down and the next typhoon isn’t scheduled to make landfall until sometime next week, so we’re reveling in glorious sunshine and wallowing in brutal humidity. It’s the kind of weather that makes you sweat even sitting still and saps the energy right out a body: dog summer anyway you say it. The sky is a Technicolor riot every day. I’ve never shot slide film, Kodachrome, or Velvia, but those would be the only films I’ve heard of that might be adequate to the intense natural saturation of color in the sky, clouds, and trees, and I wish I had the luxury to spend some leisurely time with those colors.
Homework, however, which is not merely the bane of school-kids’ weekends but also the wrench in the otherwise fun-loving, picture-taking works of certain members of our class, has kept the majority of us inside. One of our several assignments this summer was to copy out the brief (four-page) introduction to the Avatamsaka Sutra by Cheng-kuan. Except, we had to copy it thirty times each within the four-day limit imposed by our Head Lecturer. I begged off to a mere 20 repetitions, a task which still kept me up past ten three nights running and required every spare moment during the day.
Above is one of those repetitions, a later one judging from the quality of my handwriting. Note the correction tape freely layered here and there; what malformations it hides, I don’t want to recall. I’ve posted about hand-copying sutras, or sa-gyeong, before, although this assignment differed from those acts of transcription done out of faith. Initially, we were expected to memorize the introduction, a standard expectation and accomplishment in traditional sutra halls and Korean education, monastic or otherwise; my class was a little slow with the memorization bit, so the compromise offered by our lecturer was to have us copy it out.
The horizon within our main hall has been largely filled with looming characters and layers of paper for the summer. It’s with relief, then, that we turn to the wider horizon outside, even in the heat. The sky, which is usually quite beautiful, seems particularly so this year–and I will remember this summer as the summer of intense heavens. The thumbnails I’ve included here, shot on the sly when no was looking, do not do it justice.
Morning about two weeks ago, looking over the Admantine Hall to the hills beyond, during the monsoon when the sky dropped low and gray every day, if it didn’t outright pour.
Dawn, about a week ago, looking over the Vairocaina Hall, on a day that turned very rainy around midmorning.
“Chinese cabbages”–although we call them plain cabbages, and those huge, round things they eat in Europe and the States “Western cabbages.” A late summer harvest from our fields, 2010.
On the right, the two nuns standing are, from top to bottom, a first-year nun serving a work-rotation as the Third Helper (하채공) and the summer season’s third-year student Housemaster (원주). Scooping rice out of the cauldron are two third-year nuns, the Head Rice Cook at top left and her helper for the day at bottom left.
The bean sprouts used to make this special meal were grown by the Housemaster; to turn fresh bean sprouts into bean-sprout rice requires careful control of water and fire, and more batches of this meal end up bad than good. This one, however, was a success.
Seo Ju Sunim, studying. (Summer, 2010)
Today’s the first day of the fall season at school. This picture is actually from the summer season, but because of extreme technical difficulties–the largest one being I couldn’t even get to a computer for several months–I’ll be putting up a lot of summer pictures now. Besides which, the first study hall (입선) of the season isn’t until tomorrow evening, and I couldn’t help wanting to kick the season off in photos a little earlier.
Ordinarily we wear our short bowing robes during study hall. The summer months are brutally hot, however, so we switch to work jackets while studying, unless it’s group recitation time (독성) or the presentation of a passage by one of the student-nuns (논강).
Ban Ju Sunim, one of the most diligent in our class, is reading a paper on the Surangama Sutra at her desk.