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(Yonhap Feature) Chinese-American man promotes 'slow living' on Jeju

All News 09:00 January 05, 2011

By Anne Hilty
Contributing Writer

Jeju Island, South Korea, Jan. 5 (Yonhap) -- In our fast-paced world, especially in technology-driven "ppalli ppalli," or "fast, fast" Korea, the frenetic lifestyle can be addictive.

Jeju Island, off South Korea's south coast, like most island cultures has a slower, more relaxed and peaceful way of living -- at least outside of its capital city, Jeju. Yet even on this subtropical honeymoon island, there is an increasing urge to emulate the mainland, and the rest of the world, in "busyness."

Enter Tommy Tran, a 26-year-old Chinese-American man who has lived here for three years. In January, he plans to embark on a seven-day, 150-kilometer pilgrimage, carrying what can be called a message of slow living, a lifestyle that is dedicated to mindfulness, simplicity and a reconnection to nature.

"I am deeply disturbed by the sense of urgency all around me," Tran says, "and I want to help change it."

Tran embodies multiculturalism, with parents from Vietnam and grandparents from China, a birthplace of Guam and adolescent years in the United States, spiritual grounding in the Taiwan-based Foguangshan Buddhist sect, and a love of Korean culture.

In addition to Buddhist precepts, Tran finds inspiration in Classical Taoism, American Transcendentalism and the literary work of 17th-century Japanese poet Matsuo Munefusa, known best by his pseudonym, Basho.

"Taoism questions the validity of simple truths, thereby challenging people to view life with a wider perspective as a means of attaining harmony with the natural flow of the world," Tran explains.

According to Tran, Basho wrote some of his most well-known literary works following his walking meditations around the countryside of Japan. Most notable is "Oku no Hosomichi," or The Narrow Road to the Interior," based on a trek taken in 1689. This first pilgrimage moved him out of a deep despair to a renewal of joy.

Tran has named his own walk on Jeju Island "The Narrow Road" in honor of Basho's work, and intends to write one poem on each day of his journey.

During this time, Tran will stop at eight temples significant to Buddhist pilgrimages. Beginning at two volcanic outcroppings, Seongsan Ilchubong and Dongam Temple, he will stop at temples Gwantong, Pyoseon, Wolla, Bongnim, Beophwa, Gwangmyeong and finally end in the city of Seogwipo at Yakcheon Temple.

He is supported, spiritually and in practical matters, by Yakcheon Temple and Gwangmyeong Temple as well as Seoul Foguangshan and the Hsi Lai temple in southern California. As he is making his way via Jeju's famous trails, called "Olle," he is also in contact with their management team, who has provided him with guidance.

Tran's message complements that of former local journalist Suh Myung-sook, founder of the Jeju Olle trails. Following her 2006 pilgrimage in France and Spain, on the "Camino de Santiago del Compostela," Suh was inspired to develop these trails precisely to encourage people to simplify their lives and reconnect to nature, their loved ones, their communities and themselves.

The astonishing popularity of the Jeju Olle trails speaks to the need, felt by many, to do just that.

The Slow Movement, or "Slow Living," is gaining attention around the world.

"Living deliberately," writes Canadian journalist Carl Honor, "means taking the time to get the most out of life. It means never hurrying for the sake of it."

Health psychology, a type of science that studies the relationship among biology, social factors and behavior, supports this slower, more mindful living as a means to physical, mental and emotional well-being.

A 2010 report by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) places Korea near the top for productivity -- and near the bottom for efficiency.

Working more deliberately, in a mindful and therefore efficient manner, achieves the same results in less time -- eliminating "time poverty" and replacing it with a higher quality of life.

In contrast to Korea's "ppalli ppalli" culture, the famous Kenyan high-speed runners live by the Swahili phrase "hapa hapa" -- or "slowly, slowly." In Japan, "The Sloth Club," with its motto of "Slow is beautiful," began in 1999, a trailblazer of the Slow Movement.

Earlier this year, Australian native and longtime Jeju resident Sherrin Hibbard went on her own pilgrimage swimming around Jeju Island, an event she titled "The Jeju Big Swim." Her motivation was similar to that of Tran: In order to protect the environment, we must reconnect to nature and to simple and mindful living.

"Too many of us are mindless of the consequences of our actions. Tran's walk is showing us that there is a better way of being in the world, in taking time to slow down, think and reflect," Hibbard says.

Tran hopes that the upcoming pilgrimage he will take will help him carry his message to others.

"I'm not particularly athletic, and not all that brave, either," he says. "I've chosen to make this pilgrimage in the extreme winter weather, as did Basho, to be inspired both spiritually and artistically -- and to show that if I can do this, anyone can accomplish something similar, step by step."

Tran invites others to join him for part or all of his journey -- to walk with him for a day or two, or even for a short while, in order that they might experience for themselves the mindfulness of walking meditation and the joy of slow and simple living.

For more information about "The Narrow Road," contact Tommy Tran at: jinmunhak@gmail.com.



(Editor's note: Dr. Anne Hilty is a cultural health psychologist and educator. She has lived in Korea for five years and now makes Jeju Island her home.)

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