SPARK Studytour Students Pursuing Amazement in Russia and Korea Sun, 27 May 2018 11:06:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 SPARK Studytour 32 32 Thank you! Sat, 26 Aug 2017 20:17:09 +0000 Having reached the end of our adventure in Russia and South Korea, we can look back fondly on this amazing study tour. The amount of memories that we have built up in only four weeks is staggering: we have travelled through two countries that are completely different from the Netherlands and each other in nearly every way imaginable. Moreover, there was a unique and beautiful atmosphere present within our fellowship of travelers.

Our warmest gratitude goes out to the many parties that have supported our study tour. Thank you to the travel organization Hemminkways for assisting us with the planning and logistics of the tour. Thank you to all sponsors, funds and case study suppliers for making this experience financially feasible. Thank you to all companies and universities abroad for giving us such warm welcomes. Thank you to all supporters, contacts and friendly bystanders for giving us a nudge in the right direction when we needed it. And of course many thanks to all the participants who joined us on this tour, for making this study tour an unforgettable experience. Without any of these people, SPARK would not have become as successful as it has.

We sincerely hope that our stories might inspire a new generation of students to organize a study tour of their own and create amazing experiences and memories for themselves.

The SPARK study tour committee

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Day 27: The home stretch (Jim) Mon, 07 Aug 2017 19:19:20 +0000 And there it was, the last day of the study tour. It was going to be a long day full of traveling. We got up early in order to have enough time for checking in to our flight. In the end, there was not much time left before boarding after we arrived at the gate. Having gotten some breakfast and something to drink, we boarded the plane. Ahead of us was a flight of almost eleven hours and after that another one of two hours.

Luckily this flight was equipped with onboard entertainment systems. There were plenty of movies to watch. I ended up spending most of the flight watching them and only stopping in between to eat and drink. Time flies when watching movies, so we soon landed in Warschau.

Unfortunately, our flight to Amsterdam was delayed, so we had to wait an extra hour. Now we no longer had the onboard entertainment systems, so instead I decided to have a well-deserved rest. By the time we landed in Amsterdam it was eight o’clock in the evening. Considering the time zones, we were traveling for twenty hours by this time and we still had to take the train back to Eindhoven.

As traditions dictates, the NS was conducting maintenance on the track between Boxtel and Eindhoven, so we were forced to travel the last by bus. The only what made the trip even worse, was the crying baby two seats in front of me. Having arrived at Eindhoven we were greeted by some members of Thor who did not join us on the trip. The had been so nice to bring us some beer. Now I had already been traveling for a near twenty-four hours, so it was time to go home and call it a day.

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Day 26: Finally, we have a holiday! (Thymen and Meeuwis) Sun, 06 Aug 2017 13:11:01 +0000 Dear diary,

T: My day started early at the hostel, because I had planned to go windsurfing together with Anton, Rick and Dirk. Unfortunately no other participants that were members from our windsurf association wanted to join us for windsurfing in Jeju 🙁 After showering and a short break for breakfast we went to find a taxi at 7:45 to bring us to the east side of the island. I had already been there the day before to see where we would windsurf and heard there that we had to be there early today.

M: While they were on their way to go windsurfing I was still sleeping. We had to check out at 10 o’clock so around 09:15 the first alarm went off. I woke up and went for a relaxing shower. Unfortunately the morning wasn’t as relaxing for everybody. Some people had a very hard time waking up and packing their stuff.

T: In the meantime we were waiting at the surf spot for the pickup truck to be loaded with our gear. On the way to the new spot our driver had to make way for a car that didn’t seem to notice us while we were honking loudly. We made it to the spot and rigged our sets to go windsurfing.

M: After placing our stuff in the luggage room we took a cab to the beach to go kayaking. After twenty minutes of driving we arrived at the beach, despite the all the effort it wasn’t the right place to go kayaking. It was a very nice beach however, and a few of us went swimming. Not me though, since I was still sunburned from yesterday and couldn’t stay long in the sun. I decided to go sit in the shade and after that people joined me in a smoothy bar.

T: First we had to go walk for a while, since there was a beach and our skegs were too long. Most of the day I was windsurfing, but the wind wasn’t strong enough for fancy tricks. At around 2 in the afternoon we had a very good lunch and we packed our stuff to go back to the hostel in time for catching our plane to Seoul. Dirk decided to bring a piece of volcanic rock as a reminder of the trip.

M: We finished our smoothies and decided to go to the city center to hunt some souvenirs. The bus brought us there and we found an underground shopping mall, where we spend time looking for souvenirs. This turned out to be more of a challenge than we thought. In the end the souvenirs were found and a good walk brought us back to the hostel.

T: At 4 PM we arrived at the hostel and I checked and repacked my bag in preparation for the trip to the airport. Here I met Meeuwis at the table browsing the internet. We went downstairs and tried to get a bus to the airport, which took a lot longer than it should. By the time it arrived half of the group had already taken a taxi.

M: When I was at the hostel browsing the internet I met Thymen, who returned from windsurfing. After that everybody got their stuff and we waited for the bus to catch our flight. At the airport there were a few problems with the luggage of Dirk, Rutger and Thijs. Do you remember the stone Dirk found? He had to leave it at customs. Bye, bye souvenir.

T: Just after Dirk was asked to say goodbye to his precious stone, Thijs had to say goodbye to some of his precious metal. The metal appeared to be very rare on Jeju and a lot of Korean people wanted to make pictures of it. But nobody was left and for the remainder of the time I watched an episode of a tv series. In the bus I asked Meeuwis to join me in writing this piece.

After the bus ride we are both going to sleep in anticipation for our next flight, which will take us home. See you in one day!


– Thymen en Meeuwis

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Day 25.1: kiloamperes in Jeju’s thermal power plant (Stefan) Sat, 05 Aug 2017 05:36:30 +0000 Today we had one of the coolest excursions of our trip: An excursion to the Jeju thermal power plant. This relatively small power plant is operated by Komipo (Korea Midland Power Company) and is one of two power plants on Jeju island. The power plant houses several units: Two 40MW internal combustion units, a 55MW gas turbine, two 75MW oil units and some smaller PV systems. We visited the 75MW oil plants, one of which was running on conventional fuel oil and the other running on bio-oil. 

Due to limited excursion capacity, the group only consisted of 14 people. We were picked up from our hostel by a small bus and an SUV, and we were greeted by the Komipo tour guides. After a short drive we arrived at the facility’s main reception area where we got a short presentation about Komipo and the Jeju power plant. Komipo is one of the major electricity suppliers in Korea and with an installed capacity of over 12GW it is responsible for 10% of the country’s generated power. Komipo is a public company that operates the Jeju power plant as a public service. This is because the price of electricity generated at the Jeju plant is not competitive in a liberalized market, due to the small scale of the power plant. The power plant is still under development as a new combined cycle power plant (a gas turbine which doubles as a conventional gas plant) is being installed on the site, which will have a capacity of 240MW. After the presentation, there was a brief question round. Among other things, it was explained that the gas turbines would be fed by natural gas from a LNG (liquid natural gas) terminal on the east side of Jeju and that the HVDC link installed on the same site, which connects the island of Jeju to the Korean mainland, provided an additional 30% of Jeju’s power. The total power supply is therefore split evenly between the two power plants on Jeju and the HVDC link.

After this we set off to the actual generator units 2 and 3. The bus drove around the entire power station, where we could see various installations such as the huge water and oil tanks, the docks where oil supply ships docked 2 times a week, and various components of the new CCPP scattered around the area. The plant was nicely segmented between the various power generator units and HVDC link. It contained a total of two high voltage transformers for redundancy. Once we arrived at the plant we were immediately sent to the control room on floor 3. Incidentally this was also the floor that housed the two 79MVA 3-stage generators, which we could take a brief look at. The operator explained a bit about the control room of the units, which were operating near maximum power. We learned that the summer power consumption peak (warm, humid days like today) is about 90% of the winter power consumption peak. This is due to the abundance of air conditioning in all buildings on Jeju and Korea in general. Apart from this it was explained that the two oil-powered units can be considered base-line power supply for Jeju, and that they had a power factor of 0.99. Though it was not thoroughly explained, it can be assumed that most power factor correcting will be done with the HVDC link.

The operator told us that typhoons, like the one that might hit over the weekend, are of no concern to the power plant. Everything is built to easily withstand typhoons, since the units opened in 2001 there has been no interruption of service due to typhoons. To meet the green image of Jeju, a lot of exhaust fume filtering is applied. Taking this even further, Komipo has set a goal to not exceed half of the allowed exhaust limit.

Afterwards we went up to the 8th floor, the roof of the power plant, to get a nice overview of the whole facility. From here we had a good view or the entire CCPP construction site, of which the heat exchangers were already in place. It was also nice to get an overview of Jeju City Hall, the area where we stayed. Due to the hot day and the proximity to the power plants thermal exhaust, temperatures on the rooftop were almost unbearably high. After a short talk with the operator and tour guide and a group picture on the rooftop we headed back down to the ground floor to get back in the bus to the hostel. Komipo provided us with a very nice present: An American-style Jeju coffee container. All in all this was a great excursion, and I would like to thank Komipo again for being a great host for us!

-Stefan Molenschot

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Day 24: Sightseeing Jeju (Ward) Fri, 04 Aug 2017 15:08:08 +0000 This morning we woke up in the new hostel. We had some fried eggs on bread with orange juice for breakfast. Then we got in the bus for a tour around the beautiful places on the island.
The guide on our bus told us what we were going to see, together with some info about the island. Her English was not the easiest to understand with her Korean accent. She told us that there are “three many’s”, which means three things of which there are many on the island. These being stones, wind and women.

First, we went to the mountains in the center of the island. We had about one hour to climb to the top of one, which was about 210m higher than our starting point. There was a long staircase going through the trees all the way up to a viewing point. When we finally got up there, the view was really great. And there was an antenna on the top, so of course we had to stick a few Thor stickers on it.

After the mountain, we went to one of the many craters on the island, and views were nice again. The guide explained that it was a volcanic crater, but the volcano had not been active for a long time.

The next thing on the list was a huge cliff on the coast. When we arrived there we first had to eat. Some of us were craving for some western food so went to the MC Donald’s. I had never been in one with such a magnificent view before. After lunch we went to climb the rock. Climbing this thing was even harder than the first mountain, because the trees were not protecting us from the sun. When we got to the top though, the view was amazing and we were greeted by a nice breeze.

The last thing on the list was a volcanic cave. It was actually the longest lava tube in the world: around seven kilometers long, although we could only walk one kilometer into it. Inside it was cold and wet. It was fun, but all the other tourists and the artificial path and lighting might have taken a bit from the experience.
And arriving back at the hostel we had the rest of the evening to ourselves.

Greetings from Jeju! 

– Ward de Groot

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Day 23.2: A piece of The Netherlands in Seoul (Martyn) Fri, 04 Aug 2017 14:53:04 +0000 After the presentation of the Teach North Korea Refugees a part of the group decided to visit the meerkats café and to join an excursion to the Dutch embassy in Korea in our last free afternoon in Seoul. 

After we entered the café we were stunned with the cuteness of meerkats, baby kangaroos and cats. In this café you can enjoy a drink while these animals keep you company. There is even a little playground for the meerkats where you can pet and play with them. After only 20 minutes it was back in the road again and racing to the second destination of the afternoon: the Dutch embassy.

The embassy excursion was an unofficial excursion, organised by a couple of students who randomly met an embassy employee in a bar. Funny coincidence: the organising committee had contacted the same person by email months before!

What was initially planned to be an small excursion of around one hour quickly became two and a half hours. I will try and provide the main highlights of the presentation given by the Senior Science Technology Officer of the Dutch Embassy.
When people think of the embassy they mainly think about passport exchange and arrangement in foreign countries. While this was the main task of the embassy a couple of decades back, recently the focus has shifted to more economically beneficial practices. 27 people are employed in the Dutch embassy of Seoul. Many people may think these are only Dutch citizens this is not the case: only 9 of them are Dutch citizens. 

The main functions of the embassy nowadays are as follows:

  • Trade importance
  • Diplomatic importance
  • General talking point for Dutch citizens in Korea
  • Arranging of passports and visas
  • Economical importance
  • Cultural importance

Its main purpose nowadays is to generate revenue for the Netherlands. This is mainly done by arranging meetings or contact info between companies/contacts to South Korean companies/contacts.
An important piece of history for Korea is the Korean war between South and North Korea. It is often an underestimated war in European history and general knowledge. Since the Netherlands helped South Korea in this war by sending troops, Koreans (especially elderly) are still grateful for the Dutch help. Sometimes they even thank  embassy employees for their help in this war. While strange to hear at first it fits the general Korean culture well.

Some random and not so random facts about Korea :

  • The average income of an South Korean was 67 dollars per month in the year 1953, and from this period on wars both North and South Korea have seen a sharp increase in the average income. North Korea could roughly match the increase in average salary till the end of 1970
  • Samsung alone is responsible for 17% of the national product of south Korea.
  • 70% of the country landmass is mountainous and therefore uninhabitable. Therefore about 49 million people live in about the same area as the Netherlands.
  • About 23.6 million people live in the size of Noord-Brabant, the city of Seoul and its surrounding areas. 
  • About 10.000 military attributes are aimed at South Korea by North Korea
  • Swimming is considered more an sport then an activity. Korean people do not learn to swim for safety reasons (as is custom in the Netherlands), but mostly as sport. This is the reason most beaches close at 19:00, and almost every beach has life guards. 
  • Korean people are very punctual and hard-working: it was very normal for employees to begin earlier than their boss and leave after their boss had left. 
  • Extracurricular activities are very normal for pupils, and some even start to do extracurricular activities at their fifth year.
  • During the annual final exam no flights are allowed to leave or to take off for 30 minutes, in order not to distract the students. 
  • Bosses instruct their employees to come to work later on this annual exam date, in order to minimise traffic. 
  • If for some reason you oversleep on this important day, you can call the police and they will give you an private escort to your school.
  • The stereotypical Korean student is very well in learning “from the book”. During their studies not a whole lot of attention is paid to thinking out of the box.

After the excursion to the Dutch embassy, we were off to the hostel to grab the transfer to the airport. The flight was smooth and fine and while people caught up on their sleep on the plane the larger part of the group did some relaxing on the one-hour flight.

After arriving at our final destination Jeju, we departed to our hostel. This time we did not have an transfer to pick us up. Instead we went by the “normal” bus! Although it was a bit cozy in the bus everything fitted and we arrived at the hostel in one go.

Since this is my final blog, I would like to say that if you have any questions you can just ask me in Het Walhalla. I will be sure to tell you about this amazing tour and especially this amazing day.

Bye from South Korea!

Geen gedonder!

– Martyn van Dijke

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Day 23.1: Teach North Korean Refugees (Rutger) Fri, 04 Aug 2017 14:49:55 +0000 Today we took the metro to hear stories from North Korean Refugees which were helped by the organisation Teach North Korean Refugees. This organisation helps North Korean defectors adjust to their new lives in South Korea, and helps them learn English and public speaking.

We arrived at the location where the presentations started at 10 o’clock. It was very hot this day and luckily there was some air-conditioning. First we were welcomed by the founder of the NGO. He had studied Korean and Foreign Studies and he had been a freedom worker in DC before coming to Korea, where he started the organisation in March 2013. He explained that Korea gets half a million refugees every year and that 30 thousand of this total are from North Korea. The North Korean refugees usually cross the border with China, but also to Russia. In China they get deported back to North Korea when they are discovered by the authorities. Therefore they ask asylum in Thailand or Mongolia. Most of them go to Thailand, because Mongolia is very cold.

After the introduction two refugees told their story. The first refugee’s name was Hao Jun. He was born in North Korea in 1992 and became part of the program in February 2017. He is now a student in Seoul National University. When he was born it was a chaos in North Korea. The economy was bad because their only sponsor, the Soviet Union, had just collapsed. There was a big shortage of food and in that time everybody was hungry. Three million people died in that time. He used to see neglected dead bodies and violence on a daily basis. 

He started elementary school in 2000 and he was good at studying. At the age of thirteen something changed. His mother fled from North Korea. After a couple months his mother was brought back to North Korea and thrown in jail.

After she was released, his mother had arranged for him to escape from North Korea in 2004. He crossed the border to China and could not believe his eyes at how many cars and tall buildings there were. After three months he was captured by the police and brought back to North Korea. His father was punished for his action. In 2008 he escaped again and this time he had to do it on his own. He spend two years in hiding in China and then travelled to South Korea. 

The other refugee was Jung Nam, who escaped in 2008. He had served in the army for 10 years and graduated in North Korea. He told about the propaganda and mistakes of Kim Jong Un. For example, in 2009 Kim Jong Un made a law that banned all foreign currency and he inflated the North Korean monetary system. The economic system became very unbalanced. Another example is that Kin Jun Un used a whole army division just to set off fireworks for his personal liking. The division was disbanded after six months. 

We also got some time to ask questions. Most questions were in depth and some were not. We asked what life was like in North Korea, how the educational system worked and about Kimism, the religion centered around the Kim family. The education system has a lot of propaganda and contains several obligatory courses about individual Kim family members. The Kimism has 10 commandments, one of which states that you never must insult or damage statues of Kim Jong Un. 

Some other questions arose like whether or not Kim Jong Un really in is control and whether they believed if unification is possible or not. The refugees stated that they believed in the possibility of other people in control and in the possibility of reunification. 

All questions and statements led to the explanation that North Korea is not a normal country and should therefore not be treated as such. It is very hard to escape, because they can punish three family generations for only one person’s misdeeds.

Talking with the two refugees was a very insightful experience. After the talks we went for lunch and a presentation at the Dutch embassy.

– Rutger van Anrooij

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Day 22: Our visit to North Korea (Jeroen) Wed, 02 Aug 2017 22:34:36 +0000 The first of August started early, but luckily not as early as the temple stay. Some had bought instant noodles breakfast yesterday as breakfast, while some others waited for the Paris Baguette shop to open around seven zero zero hour.  

This all was for a visit to the best guarded nature reserve of the world: The demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea.  

The DMZ is 241km long and 4 kilometers wide. Can you imagine? It was formed after the Korean War, which was started in 1950 by North Korea and after huge losses at both sides it was decided to cease fire in 1953. Both sides pulled back 2km from the last line of military contact to ensure peace. This 4km wide border hasn’t changed since then. Since the 1970’s four tunnels have been discovered by South Korea. These tunnels would allow North Korea to easily transfer troops to South Korea. After discovery, South Korea closed the tunnel around the center and made the South side a touristic attraction.  


While driving to the first visiting spot, we drove along the smallest part of the border. Separated  by a river, it was just 400m to north Korea. In the dry season one could simply walk to the other side, if it weren’t for the fact you would get shot. 

We had a small stop just before the border to go to the toilet or get a coffee. Then the bus took us to the civilian control line, where a military person checked our passports. This civilian control line (ccl) , consisting of large fences and military stations to prevent tourists from coming near to the dmz. Inside the ccl is a small village, called unification village. Most people live here to cultivate the rice fields in the ccl and dmz. The ccl is 5 to 20 kilometers wide starting at the southern border of the dmz. In the dmz is a village as well, called freedom village (which is tax free). 

In the next spot we visited we had an overview of the dmz accompanied with loud western propaganda. At the other side of the military demarcation line (mdl, the real borderline) we had a view on “propaganda village” in North Korea. We also saw the South Korean factory that was built in the North in 2004 together with its own power line from the South. Because of low taxes and cheap North Korean workers, this factory could produce cheap products. In 2016 it was closed because of the increasing conflicts and provocations. 

A few kilometers further we went down into the third infiltration tunnel that South Korea discovered, and visited the museum next to it. The museum explained in a very clear way that all trouble was caused by North Korea and a film told us how North Korea had planned to invade Seoul.

Then the Dorasan train station was visited, this station was built in 2000 as part of the ‘sunshine politics’ in an attempt to build a railroad via North Korea and China to Europe. The station was built really large to be able to handle all traffic after a possible reunification, but unfortunately the railroad was closed a few years later and now only tourists visit it. 

After a quite good Korean lunch, we went to camp Bonifas at the southern border of the DMZ. After a thorough passport check and having seen a movie about what they’re doing, a bus took us through the southern DMZ to the Joint Security Area (JSA).  

The DMZ looked like a forest with a few rice fields in between. Minefield markers are everywhere. The distance between the northern and southern farm fields is just a few hundreds meters, but the farmers are not allowed to communicate.  

In the JSA, a soldier in obligatory military service guided us. We had to be quiet, calm and especially not be provocative to the North Koreans on the other side. Then neatly ordered in lines of two, we could enter the blue houses on the border, which are used for possible negotiations between the countries. In these houses we stood officially in North Korea for a very short time. After a quick visit to the gift shop, we went back to the hostel. 

Today’s dinner was arranged by the organizing committee, and we all went to a Korean barbecue restaurant which was recommended by the hostel. Although they ran out of meat, and we were sitting in the smoke of our own barbecues it tasted very good.  

In the evening most of us decided to keep it calm and cheap by buying some beers and soju in the supermarket and watch a movie in the hostel. All together it was a day we can all remember.

– Jeroen van Oorschot

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Day 21: Rain, thunder and university visits (Elwin) Wed, 02 Aug 2017 22:19:34 +0000 Today, it’s Monday july 31st, day 21 of our SPARK study tour. I woke up at 07:15h in the hostel in Seoul. The dresscode was “casual, but representative”, so I put on jean shorts and a T-shirt. After getting ready, Sebastiaan, Stefan and I went to the “French bakery” around the corner to get some breakfast. After breakfast, we got some iced coffee and we were ready to start our day. While walking to the metro station, we heard thunder in the distance, and it started to rain a little. This turned out to be an omen for the rest of the day. 

Our first destination was Sunkyunkwan University. When we arrived at the metro station close to the university, it was raining cats and dogs, and we still had to go to the department building. To make matters worse, we initially walked into the wrong building, so we had to face the rain again and arrived – most of us drenched – at the correct building where we were given a presentation about the university. We were told that Sunkyunkwan University was founded in 1392, during the Joseon Dynasty, and that it was the first university in Korea. We were at the Suwan campus, where the natural sciences are located, at the Electronic and Electric Engineering department. 

After the presentation we were given a lab tour. First up was the Co-Op Center Research Faculty, where we were shown around by professor Hyunchang. In this faculty, new products can be developed and papers can be written in cooperation with companies like Samsung or LG. We saw a lot of labs and equipment during the tour, such as an X-ray photo spectrometer (used to find contaminations on semiconductor products) and a Focused Ion Beam (used to create very small structures used in nano sciences). 

Our second tour in Sunkyunkwan University was in the Robot Café. We got a demo of a robot that can run errands for you, like bringing a cup of orange juice. We also got to see a visual recognition system and a system used for navigating on extraterrestrial soil without any GPS connection. In the adjacent labs, we saw a system that can make a 3D model using a camera similar to Kinect. The PhD candidate working on the project tried to make a model of Thijs’ head, but the software crashed repeatedly. My guess on what the reason can be, is as good as yours. The last project we have seen at the Sunkyunkwan University was a very small camera at the end of a fiber used for epiduroscopies. 

After the tour through the labs we had to face the drizzle again. I ate, soaking wet, with some other SPARK participants at the same kind of place as where we ate our breakfast.

Our next stop was Seoul National University. After a bus trip we arrived at the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. First we were given a presentation to introduce the university and next we went on a tour. During the tour we saw a library, a soldering lab and some PhD projects on electro-medical fusion engineering. They did experiments like implementing electronics into the brains of pigeons and mice to control their movements or how they react to certain smells. Next, we went to a lab where they used fluid dynamics which could be modeled by some kind of MOSFET transistor and a lab where you could learn everything about holograms. Furthermore, we had seen a presentation where some researches were trying to replace regular optical elements with metamaterials. Finally, we got to see a lab where they were working on flexible electronics and they showed us a LED matrix printed on a flexible material. 

When we left the Seoul National University it had luckily and finally stopped raining. Sebastiaan, Stefan, Pieter, Jeroen, Martijn and myself went to a restaurant close to our hostel. There we had a delicious meal consisting out of a burger, some French fries and a salad. Typically non-Korean and a nice change from fish and Kimchi. After dinner, I went back to the hostel to get some rest. 

Concluding, it was a day full of rain, presentations, lab tours, rumbling in the clouds and more rain. I have one wish for the rest of the study tour: “Geen Gedonder!”. 

– Elwin Hameleers

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Day 20: The second day of temple stay (Dirk) Wed, 02 Aug 2017 00:18:12 +0000 We were woken up at 4 o’clock in the morning, the same time when some of us had gotten back from the pub 24 hours earlier. This time however, it was not by noisy roommates or a multitude of alarms but by the abbot making his morning round, hitting his Mokta, a wooden drum-like instrument in a chanting manner. The monk took 10 minutes for his round, as he had announced the day before. During this time we had to get out of bed, wash and go to the meeting and meditation hall. At the end of his morning round the abbot stopped hitting the Mokta and started ringing a gong, so people who were not in the meeting hall yet knew they should hurry. Once I arrived in the meeting hall, there where two seats free in the front, not seeing our supervisors I assumed these were left open for them as here in Korea ranking order is still very important. For the other participants of the study tour this doesn’t really hold since we usually sit anywhere at random. 

A few of our fellow participants came rushing in at the last moment, just before the Abbot made his way from the ceremonial hall to the meeting hall. After a “good morning” from the monk he started with his morning chanting. This ceremony starts of with a simple half-bow, bending from waist towards the Budda placed in the front of the hall. The Mokta is used to support the chanting of the monk, as well as signaling the practitioners when they have to do a deep bow or prostration by an increase in the speed as he hits the Mokta. This ceremony took about 15 minutes and was in old Chinese. During the ceremony some of the volunteers of the Temple Stay organisation started up a computer. Having forgotten to turn off the sound, the windows tune echoed through the chants. 

After the ceremony was finished the head monk started his talk with the announcement that the program given the day before would be changed a little, so we would continue with 108 prostrations. He explained that these 108 prostrations where left behind by a Budda as a means to reach enlightenment. He told us as well that some people did three hundred, a few practitioners a thousand and a few, very devout practitioners, even ten thousand prostrations in one ‘sitting’. In the last case the sitting would continue far into the night, even when started at half past four in the morning. Every one of these hundred-and-eight prostrations is carried out with a reason. For each prostration the accompanying reason was chanted in an English video, normally this would be done in Chinese or Korean by the abbot or most senior monk in charge. The first prostrations are done in repention of various common wrongdoings, then there are prostrations to make vows to do good and prostrations to express gratitude for various reasons. Google is your best friend if you want to know all of the 108 specific meanings. The prostrations are not done with a bow from the waist but with each prostration one goes from standing to their knees and puts his forehead and elbows on the ground after which the practitioners lift their hands to the height of the ears. This is all done in the most spiritual and respectful way one can physically manage. 

The monk chanting these reasons will use the Mokta to signal the practitioners when to perform this prostration or bow and when to stand up again. The Monk starts hitting hard and then having his ‘drum stick’ bounce on the Mokta softer and softer, making you able to hear the full sound produced by the Mokta’s resonance chamber until it is so soft you only hear the hitting of wood on wood. Then at the last moment of the prostration he hits the Mokta hard once again to signal you can go sit upright and another hard one to signal the practitioners they can go to an upright once more. 

After the 10th prostration it was visible people where starting to feel their knees and other parts of their bodies. At 30, most participants where showing signs of tiring as their prostrations got sloppy and not as spiritual as at the beginning. Even though at that moment there was still over half of the prostrations to go, none of the participants of the SPARK gave up before the end. When the 108 prostrations had ended the monk gave some more explanations about the prostrations and other things concerning the monastery. Then, since there was still 45 minutes left before breakfast he suggested we do another round of meditation of half an hour. But since some people might be a bit sore from the prostrations he gave a few minutes of free time first, so we could stretch our legs. At this time most of us had found out we were once more missing someone. One of our company had left in the early morning due to the religious atmosphere. 

After a short break we all sat down for our second session of meditation. The monk first gave another short ‘lecture’ about meditation, explaining some monks meditate up to 20 hours a day in certain meditational centre’s. As this, for some, is the way to reach enlightenment according  another Budda with a hard-to-remember name. With 3 hits of his bamboo stick he announced the start of the meditation. After 10 minutes most of us already had shifted their position multiple times while the monk in the front was still sitting like a statue. In the half hour I was staring at the monk, the only person in the room that was actually deep in meditation, he only moved once. Moreover, that was only to straighten his back further than it already was! After the half an hour was over, the monk repeated once again how important it is to live in the now and always be conscious or mindfull of oneself in at least as many words as the previous times he explained it to us. 

Afterwards we were excused to prepare for breakfast which would begin a few minutes later. This breakfast, the most extensive breakfast served on the SPARK study tour so far, consisted of a buffet with potato’s, biscuits, sweet corn chips, rice porridge, watermelon, apple, oreo’s, rice cake and something like kimchee. Not a very well matched breakfast, and opinions on taste differed amongst us but there was a good amount of everything to start the day with. After breakfast went for a forest walk with the abbot. He was the only monk in the monastery at that moment since the other five monks that lived there went to a more remote retreat to meditate. The walk brought us trough a forest and past a few gravesites, of which one was of a great Korean scholar whose texts are still used in Korean schools today. The walk also took us past rice fields and other fields used to cultivate vegetables and fruits. During the walk we had some stops where the monk said something about where we were or what we were passing. There were also a few stops so pictures of the group could be taken by the monk and the templestay volunteers. Once we returned to the temple we had a bit of free time in which we could explore the monastery. After this free time we were invited for tea with the monk where we were free to ask him any questions we had for him, either about him, the monastery, Buddhism or Korea

In turn he would also ask about how things are in the Netherlands and how the group formed that was staying at the temple. The teatime started with a ceremony of a Japanese tea brewster making a performance of making green powder tea. Due to there not being much production while brewing tea in a ceremonial manner only four of us could be served at the same time. These four people would be seated in a different area where they were provided with the freshly made powder green tea. This green tea was accompanied by two Korean rice cake sweets. While seated we were told that the tea should be drunk in a specific manner: one first eats the rice cakes where they should focus on the taste, as eating and drinking should be done mindfully as well. After eating the rice cake the tea should be lifted with your right hand, placing your left under the cup. Then emptying the cup in 3 sips.

The others that where not at the table of the tea ceremony where served watermelon and melon and could ask questions. Questions posed to the monk during this time included whether he had any children, if he had any disciples, how long had been a monk here. For those interested, here are the answers to these questions: No, since his specific group of monks live in celebacy, thus without showing affectionate feelings to others. He has some disciples and he has been a monk in Korea for around 15 years now while he himself comes from India.

When the teatime/question hour ended we had a small break before a session of calligraphy started. Calligraphy is like many other things a way of meditation. Our supervisor was quickly convinced: “from now on people may choose between LaTeX and calligraphy when handing in their paper for the writing skills.” Everyone laughed, but then the person giving the calligraphy lesson was not amused and said that we should practice in silence. During the hour of practicing calligraphy I found out that there is a fine balance in the amount of ink you should have on your brush. Once there is to much ink, the strokes get so wide that they are indistinguishable and when there is not enough ink on your brush one can start differentiating between strokes left by the different hairs of the brush. The first problem you can solve by moving you brush faster, which means you get inaccurate while the second you can solve by putting more ink on your brush, often resulting in the first problem. When people started to finish their paper, a volunteer of the temple started to walk around with a stamp of the temple to legitimise our work. After finishing the first sheet some decided to redo it as the first was not done very neat while others decided to commit other thoughts to the paper. When we had finished with writing the ink stone and brushes had to be washed in a sink outside. 

Afterwards we moved to the kitchen where lunch was ready. Once again a diverse meal with fruits, vegetables and soup. Having washed our dishes we returned to our rooms, changed out of the loose yoga pants everyone at the temple was wearing and put our own clothes back on. Outside the monk excused himself for what he called his non-understandable English (which was much better than most Koreans), reminded us to keep mindful once more and said his goodbyes. 

The trip back to the hostel was a long one. During the two and a half hours, most (if not all) participants of the SPARK napped. Having arrived at the hostel almost everyone wanted to have a meal they knew, either steakhouse, fast food or a similar place that didn’t serve Korean food. 

After diner (mine was at an Indian restaurant which was visited by many Indians) a large part of the group gathered to watch a race of Max Verstappen and have a drink of the national liquor soju. We drank it either pure or mixed with orange juice (which we aptly named sojuice). We were interrupted from time to time by power outages caused by having the TV, the washing machine, the wash drier and some other machines on at the same time and by a man in his forties who was visibly interested in our female travel companions. Having seen who won the race we went to bed with muscle aches due to the many prostrations we did.

– Dirk Buijvoets


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