images of the crossing over

Dog Summer


The Wang-bok-so, or “Introduction of [to?] Coming and Going,” written by Cheng-kuan

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.

This afternoon.

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.

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4 responses

  1. I remember the intense humidity during summer retreat at Hwagyesa. Sitting in the meditation hall with sweat dripping off my chin. Laundry that wouldn’t dry until I put it on. Placing towels on the mats to catch the sweat generated during bows. What kind of dog deserves that?

    July 16, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    • Ha! …no dog deserves it, but we humans are taking the brunt regardless. After much heated discussion about the degradation of traditional monastic values v. practical necessity, our school installed two industrial-size washing machines and a dryer last year. My class, which spent three years hand-washing everything and bleaching the mold out of our summer clothes (because they never dry, even after you put them on), rejoiced. Let me tell you, nothing makes the summer nearly endurable like clothes straight from the dryer, crisp, smelling like detergent–and free from moisture. Until you start sweating again, that is.

      July 16, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    • Oh, and I sent an email to the @mac address listed on your profile…but I don’t know if this is your main email address?

      July 16, 2011 at 8:17 pm

  2. tibetstruth

    Your pictures are so beautiful!!!

    February 28, 2012 at 4:08 am

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