Traveling Strikes Back

Trip Start Aug 30, 2005
Trip End Aug 29, 2006

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Confirmation: Thailand - June 3rd, 2006
Confirmation: North Korea - June 30th, 2006

Works-in-Progress: China - August 12th, 2006

As you can see I've been a busy little bee. In addition I am planning a some more traveling in Korea; a Templestay and trip to Jeju-do, the "Hawaii of Korea".

To the present, this weekend I had extra day off on Friday due to Teachers Union day in Chungcheongnam-do. I decided to make the best of the addtional day and headed to Gyeong-ju city in South-eastern Korea, near Busan. So at midnight on Thursday, I boarded the midnight train for the 4-hour ride to Gyeong-ju from Jochiwon. A crash course in Korean history is needed to understand my reasoning for going to this remote location. Approximately 1400 years ago the Korean pennisula was unified into its present day form of a single nation. Before this Korea consisted of 3 kingdoms: Go-goryea, Baekjae and Shila. The last was the most powerful of the three and succeeded in conquering the other kingdoms to form what is now North and South Korea. Ancient Shila's seat of power was the present day city of Gyeong-ju, in the far southeast of the pennisula. It is widely advertized, in Korea, as a museum-city and rightly so. The entire city is oozing with history; even the present day architecture of the city is greatly influenced by the ancient remains in its midst. This is unusual in Korea; alot of the asethetic beauty of past architecture has been abandoned for communist-esque block-style housing.

Oh, by the way, "-do" is province.

Anyway, fortunately I had the fore-thought to grab my umbrella on the way out the door. It rained the entire day I was in Gyeong-ju. Me being me, I soldiered on despite the weather or my relative ill-preparedness. All the while, the Koreans had these little disposable plastic rain coats and an umbrellas; I just had an umbrella and it didn't cut it. Despite my best efforts I couldn't locate the source of these little rain jackets! The resut: Soaked jeans, shoes and socks. Then a thought occured... my backpack! It wasn't sheltered from the rain by the umbrella; it contained my freah clothes and books to entertain me on the 4 hour train ride, as well as my MP3 player. All were completely drenched - my books looked like the Elephant Man. Unpon closer inspection my MP3 player screen was sodden, the sound corrupted and the hold button non-functional. Needless to say the sacrifices I had made for the journey so far they outweighed the benefits... and as of yet I had been unable to locate anything of historical significance!

It clearly being to late for the books, I stuffed them back in the bag using the clothing to sheild them from further damage and maybe absorb some of the watered pages. LOL. So I found the Korean Observatory in the middle of an empty field, which itself unusual as large open fields are rare in Korea. Although there were several places marked out by archeoligists as the foundations of ancient buildings, or burial mounds. Next stop was the Royal Shila Pond, Anapji, which is possibly one of the most enamouring of the royal retreats I have seen thus far. Simply for its isolated beauty, I can understand the locational choice. Arguably, I think it ambience was enhanced by the rain.

Then it was onto the Gyeon-ju Korean National museum. As I mentioned before, Gyeong-ju is unique in its fastidious attention to historical archetictural detail. The museum was certainly a hommage paid to this past when it was constructed, avoiding the European-style so common in other Korean museums. Broken into four distinct display halls, it made for a much more digestable experience. I find museums overwhelming; a pot is a pot, a dagger a dagger and after a while I lose interst. So four seperate displays, marked with a walk outside between venues, made for easier and more appreciable viewing of alot of history. After viewing the museum, I assessed the full extent of the damage to my supplies under shelter. It did not please me. My original estimations were accurate. I thought: "Screw you weather! Like hell I'm going home early after a 4-hour midnight train ride here!"... so on I went.

I headed to a bus stop located near the museum for the ride out to Bulguksa temple and the UNESCO Buddha. It was nice that the bus shelter was just that as the rain was intensifying. Upon arrival at the temple, and before going any further, I stopped for a hot Korean lunch and cold beer. Great way to dispel the cold weather! Then it was up into the rain soaked peaks to the UNESCO Buddha by shuttle bus. Unfortunately, the wind and rain didn't lessen upon ascent... it worsened. That said, the weather provided a unique experience with the UNESCO Buddha. The grotto materializing out of the mist and rain, I had the Buddha to myself for a time. I imagined this might be similar to the real isolation at this location 715AD.

So it was back down the path after my revere was interrupted by some other tourists. I stood in the rain and wind for 30 minutes waiting for the shuttle bus back down to the main temple complex. On a good day I would have walked the 3.2KM path through the forest. It was worth the wait though, as the temple certainly didn't disappoint. I've been to many temples since arriving in Korean, however this was easily the most impressive yet. And, again, I had the complex almost entirely to myself. It allowed for some fantastic photo studies of the temple, which is a very rare oppportunity as it is in one of the most trafficked in Korea. No wonder.

It was then onto the Korean Folk Village, a center of arts and crafts. I took a wander through the village and watched them ply their trades. Browsed the shops. I also made some purchases in the unqiue location; a set of 4 brass chopsticks and spoons and a tea set. Brasswork is a dying, difficult art to master according to its practitioners in the village. By now the rain had almost stopped, so I used the lull to hop a bus back to Gyeong-ju. There I had 2 priorities: A) Get a hot coffee B) Get my ass home and get dried out. Thus ended the adventures in Gyeong-ju.

Saturday, my Father woke me with a devilishly planned early morning phone call. Then my sister called while I was attempting to buy an English book for my students in Cheong-ju. I went to Daejeon to pick up an extra battery for my camera for Thailand, and a new smaller backpack. I accomplished both. On Sunday morning, called my mother. Then I met the girlfriend in Cheonan for lunch and coffee. Not alot of rest, but a good weekend.

I should mention the Korean elections. At first the patriotic pride for the soccer team was cute and impressive. However, it is now becoming prevasive in every part of daily life; ads on TV, billboards, radio and shirts. Even the election campaigns, which are taking place, have taken to playing the soccer anthems from the podiums... which they play all day and into the night. Soccer fever has spurred on a pride that is now becoming borderline nationalism; personally, I think excessive amounts of national pride is dangerous. Needless to say it could be interesting being here for World Cup... Then again is it any different than in England or Brazil?
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