Bo Seong Sunim, whose name means “Universal Nature,” during last fall’s pepper-leaf-picking bonanza.
At the end of each season, the first-year students boil the stainless steel dishes used by the community for informal meals in one of the kitchen’s old-school cast-iron cauldrons. Set into wood-burning concrete hearths, we have three such cauldrons: one is used every day, three meals a day for soup, and two are reserved for “special work” like boiling mass amounts of corn-on-the-cob, and boiling the dishes.
Hot. Intense: all two hundred+ dishes must be boiled, polished, rinsed, and dried in an hour. Back-breaking, from the hours-long process of building the fire and bringing over 20 liters of water to a boil to carting the dishes back and forth from the cauldron to the dish-washing area, and from and back to the main hall.
This first-year student crouches over the cauldron on the hearth itself, pulling dishes out of the water one by one and handing them off to another nun.
See those desks in the foreground? They’re where we sometimes sit for either class or study hall. Then what do you do the rest of the time? I hear you ask. Answer: we work.
This group work-period took place at the back of our living hall on a day when class finished early, hence the desks we left in place at the front of the hall. We’re peeling chestnuts to make “health porridge,” a concoction of boiled rice and a variety of “healthy” ingredients: ginseng, jujubes, pine nuts, chestnuts, and more. We’re hunched in circles because peeling the fiberous inner lining of a chestnut shell produces hundreds of small brown flakes, and we try to minimize clean-up by aiming our peelings at the large round trays in the center of each cluster.
Most group work takes place in the kitchen or the fields, but when the work is mobile, we take it to our hall, where we can sit comfortably (and in winter, warmly) and work.