Well-being is synonymous with holism, a natural approach to living: no small feat in frenetic, materialistic Seoul.
In its simple form, holism means a healthy diet, getting enough sleep each night, more leisure time and, especially, disconnecting oneself from the electronics that define a Seoulite’s lifestyle. In its trendy form, holism is another foreign import: aerobics, wonder diets and coffee shops with exotic blends.
Buddhist monks have been living a truly holistic lifestyle for millennia, and it shows. Have you ever seen a stressed-out, anemic-looking monk? The brother monks are very robust, and the sister monks radiate joy and happiness. It’s as if haloes brighten their faces.
All the makeup on student street will not give campus princesses the natural beauty those sister monks have acquired through following a wholesome holistic regimen.
What’s the monks’ secret?
Maybe it has something to do with being the proverbial early bird; with tending a vegetable garden, the reward being the best diet on the peninsula; with doing without most of the electronics that pacify urbanites for more esoteric pursuits, including meditation, yoga and the green-tea ceremony. And the monks learned long ago what is axiomatic among Realtors: “location is everything.” For they live in the choicest real estate on the peninsula, breathing its fresh air and drinking its pure water.
It is not surprising that trendsetters are seeking an alternative lifestyle. But it would be naive to expect everyone living in hyper-urban Seoul to embrace one. Nonetheless, it is time to insert a lifestyle correction into a society that experienced extreme change in a couple of decades.
One of the consequences of the Miracle on the Han was the absentee-father phenomenon. A typical Korean father worked a grueling 70-hour workweek during the miracle years, leaving him exhausted and on the couch for most of his free Sunday afternoon. When a father did spend some quality time in a park with his young children, the children often behaved awkwardly towards him as if he were a distant relative on an occasional visit. The advent of the five-day workweek is therefore a welcome improvement to the well-being of the Korean family.
The miracle years also affected Koreans’ diet as fast-food joints opened on every street corner and children were bombarded with junk food. Although every neighborhood market is a veritable cornucopia of fruits and vegetables, children’s eating habits are at a nadir. They even snub the delicious Korean pear for sickly-sweet concoctions on sticks. What’s more, bad eating habits in one’s early years can lead to obesity and other eating-related disorders later in life.
Rather than eating at a trendy holistic restaurant for gastronomic well-being, all we need to do is to stay with the traditional Korean diet, which encompasses the breadth and width of the peninsula and the surrounding seas. Michael Jackson lived on beebimbab while visiting Seoul. Better still, get ye to a Buddhist monastery for culinary rehabilitation.
Well-being is influencing Seoul’s streets, too. The new lawn in front of City Hall is just what central Seoul needed; that is, a big open space with absolutely nothing in it. I worry, though, that some “urban planner” will propose building a tourist center there.
Everyone is excited about the restoration of Cheong Gye Cheon, which will enhance center-city’s image as much as the development of the Han River bank for the Olympics enhanced Seoul’s image. This restoration is truly significant, because it will give back to the area much of its former character.
The lucrative tourist trade has been bypassing this city for better-known Asian destinations. The “Hi Seoul” advertising campaign, touting Seoul as the dynamic and stylish city that it is, wants to reverse this. Even the need for such a campaign will be short-lived as more tourists visit and word spreads about Cheong Gye Cheon and all the people-friendly projects that have noticeably improved the quality of life here.
Our collective peace of mind is disturbed daily by the many “handy”-phone conversations of total strangers. One sure way to improve everyone’s well-being is to ban these phones from public places, especially buses and the subway. Why not! They banned smoking, didn’t they?
Given the recent finding of medical research on the danger of continual cell-phone using ? the probability of brain tumors -- I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a warning printed on such phones similar to the warning we see on packs of cigarettes. In fact, the research found that the deleterious effects of long-term cell-phone using are as insidious as the effects of long-term smoking.
Now when I see chatterboxes with cell phones pressed to their ears, I worry that in 20 years they will suffer from brain tumors just as chain-smokers suffer from lung cancer because of their long-term addiction. Perhaps continual cell-phone using is just that, an addiction.
Leisure time is central to the holistic lifestyle. Dongguk students while away their abundance of leisure time at “Rosebud,” the campus cafe where they meet to chat while under the influence of the coffee bean. Whose mental well-being has not been improve by a long talk over a cup of coffee with a good friend?
Film buffs will recall that “Rosebud” was the last word whispered by John Foster Kane from his deathbed in “Citizen Kane,” Orson Wells’ masterpiece.
Nothing is better for one’s well-being than escaping from frenetic Seoul for a weekend of mountain trekking, especially during Korea’s glorious autumn. Yet Donggukians can escape by simply taking a campus trail going up Namsan. Along the way, we can enjoy peace and quiet while appreciating the reddish browns, burnt oranges and mellow yellows of the autumnal palette.
If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, then all Donggukians should be concerned about their gastronomic well-being after reading The Dongguk Post’s expose of the dubious hygiene standards of campus dinning facilities. It made me glad that I brown-bag my lunch.
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