Stunning Gyeongju and searching for enlightenment !!

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October 15th 2012
Published: October 15th 2012
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Day 35 (Wed 10thOct)

I moved on from Busan in the morning, after taking in Breakfast. Got the Subway to the nearest express bus terminal, bought my ticket which is very good value at just over £2 and got on the limousine bus. These buses are very comfortable with huge lazy-z-boy like chairs, nicer than some of the beds I’ve slept in. Takes 1 hour give or take to get to Gyeong-ju from Busan.

Arrived and got checked into my hostel, possibly the first hostel I’ve found without getting lost, which was a bonus, although this place is a lot smaller than anywhere I’ve been so far.

Took a walk out to see a royal tomb which is literally a huge grassy mound up a lane. It turns out there’s tombs everywhere here, just random grass mounds all over the city, always with 1 headstone at the base. It seems there are a lot of royals from the Silla kingdom buried in Gyeong-ju.

Also took in a place called Anapji pond which I walked about 2 miles too. There are a couple nicely restored pavilions and pagoda’s there surrounding a very green lake. It’s a nice setting and supposed to be even nicer at night but I can imagine how it’ll look so won’t be bothering paying twice.

Gyeong-ju is quite a small place in comparison to everywhere else I’ve been but I still managed to walk around for around 2 hours and not see the same street twice and also getting slightly lost in relevant markets that spring up all over the place. If there’s pavement space there will be someone selling something.

Finished the night playing pool on the world’s smallest table, with a few Korean people who actually volunteer here for free bed and board. Drank a few local beers after I found which was my favourite and headed to sleep.

Day 36 (Thurs 11th Oct)

Headed out around half 10, just across the street to the bus stop to go to the Bulguksa temple, a Unesco World Heritage Site. Took around half an hour and takes in some nice countryside. The temple was absolutely rammed with thousands of school kids all on trips, which made it hard to enjoy the temple in peace, how it should be.

Also the fact that Korean kids seem to enjoy taking pictures of white folk, so I was snapped constantly for the hour or so I was there, there was also an abundance of kids in Arsenal coats which I found odd. I left the temple and headed up a path towards the Seokgulam Grotto it’s called. It’s about a 3km hike up a stupidly steep walkway with again, lots of stairs. It’s pretty hard going and I seemed to be the only one going up and everyone else was coming down, mainly Korean seniors. They must get the bus that goes up there and stroll down, but I wasn’t paying for a bus. Made it to the top knackered, had a breather and walked to the grotto. It houses a large granite Buddha statue from the 8th century, the only problem being the statue is behind a huge glass wall these days so actually seeing it and getting close to it is not possible. It was good to see anyway and not expensive so worth the hike up. Sat and had an ice cream to cool down and walked back to Bulguksa temple to get the bus back into town.Had a few beers in the evening once again and played pool with the staff and a couple other guests.

Day 37 (Fri 12th Oct)

Today I wanted to get out into the countryside so I decided on going to Mt Namsan over a Folk Village instead and I’m sure I made the right decision. After getting the bus for 20 mins or so I got off it when a few others who looked like professional Korean middle aged hikers got off, this was a correct call as they were too going up Namsan. I found a map with route’s and went for the nearest peak (468m) to get a good view over the city. It said 2.4km I think. It took well over an hour, the climb up is incredibly tough, with the path disappearing into nothingness but rocks at some stages and dirt trails at others. The route up was littered with random stone carvings into the hillside which were very impressive and also very old and original.

At the top I stopped for 10 mins or so to take pictures, enjoy the view and dry off. The worrying part is all the middle aged Korean ladies didn’t look tired at all and there’s me sprawled all over a rock knackered. I found another map at the top and decided I’d go for the biggest peak but then realising how far away it was and that I had to go pretty much down to ground level to go back up it I changed my mind and wandered a different route instead.

There was supposed to be a temple pagoda at the spot I was going towards, but on the way I bumped into an Australian girl who I’d met in my hostel in Busan, it really is amazing that these random meetings occur in the middle of a national park that is quite empty of people. After her I didn’t see another sole for over an hour. I found the pagoda and headless Buddha statue and decided to head down towards a different village but on the same route as the bus. The descent was unbelievable.

Firstly it was amazingly steep and there wasn’t really a path most of the way, just sorta winged it and as long as I was going downhill I was going the right way. Secondly, in stages it was too steep to descend, instead there were ropes attached to trees to abseil yourself down, which was fun if not a little scary. One fall there and I doubt you’d be in a good way, with no one around to help.

I made it to the flatter ground then my concentration must have waned because second later I was on the floor and with a scratched camera screen to show for it. Camera still works fine and its not a big problem so it’s all good, it won’t need fixing.

The evening was spent with Mike, an American lad teaching near Seoul. We had some local Korean pork, which you cook at the table yourself over coals, along with about 7 side dishes of various things that I can name. We then checked out a festival for a bit and saw some weird drag act playing the drums which was highly amusing. We headed back to the hostel to drink a few beers and some Korean milk like alcoholic drink called Makgeolli, not particularly nice, sort of milk looking alcohol.

This was after me and Mike had a disagreement with a 73 year old Japanese guy in the hostel, before we went out. He was being a plank about me wearing flip flops in the room, which apparently you’re not so I told him he was allowed to drink, which he was. Cue all sorts of swear words and him threatening the kung fu our asses, which was hilarious. The manager got involved but apparently this happens a lot, he’s been staying there for 6 months and we’re not the first to fall out with him.

Day 38 (Sat 13th Oct)

Woke up too late for breakfast again, 9am is really too early to finish serving breakfast. Got my stuff ready and headed for Golgulsa temple for my temple stay. After missing the bus stop because at the intersection I thought the bus was going left and it went straight I had to walk back about 2 miles and a further 1 up the road to the temple, arriving at 1pm, the earliest you can check in. I got there early to make sure I didn’t miss out on Archery at 2pm, although I wasn’t very good at it, only hitting the target 3 times in plenty of shots, our team also losing the competition. This was after getting changed into my lovely new threads of huge and I mean huge grey pants and a lovely orange waistcoat to go over my t-shirt. Looking very dapper indeed, a look for the ladies I imagine.

After archery I took in a bit of a nap, although sleeping on a duvet on the floor isn’t exactly comfortable, I actually felt worse after I woke up than I did before I had a kip. Went to the cafeteria for tea, a vegan meal of rice, some mushrooms, kimchi, tofu and other dishes I couldn’t make out and a soup. I took some rice, kimchi, tofu and soup, with the deal being you can eat as much as you like but you have to leave an empty plate once finished, no waste. When the tofu is the best bit of a meal you can be assured I didn’t enjoy it much.

The evening was taken up by firstly chanting, although us westerners couldn’t really join in as we can’t read Korean, but we did participate in the bowing and the rest of it. After this it was on to Sunmudo training, which is a martial art only taught in Golgulsa temple and an office or 2 in Seoul I believe. Starts a bit like yoga, moving into all sorts of movements, punches, kicks etc and warms down again at the end with some more yoga. It’s safe to say that all the temple stayers enjoyed the Sunmudo but were shattered after it, very hard work indeed. It was 9pm after this and lights out at 10pm so I went back had a shower and got into bed, or should I say, the floor.

Day 39 (Sun 14th Oct)

I was due to wake at 4am for morning chants at half 4 but this didn’t happen. I turned my alarm off around 3am when I still hadn’t got to sleep to wake up at 7am. My Korean roommate didn’t wake me either so I think I was the only one to miss the morning chant, as well as the special Sunday morning Buddhism breakfast ceremony. The punishment for this is 3000 bows but no one seemed to notice I weren’t there so got away with it although no chance I would have done that, apparently it takes 9-12 hours.

I did make the tea ceremony with the sunmudo master who had taught up the day before. This was at 8am and consisted of drinking green tea, sat on the floor in a big circle and asking questions. Now I was still way too asleep to be bothered to ask ought but I did drink plenty of tea. It was quite fun if not a little different. The master himself is a very cool fella but not a monk, so a little bit more social, as he lives outside the compound unlike most the others. I watched a Sunmudo demonstration at 11am with the other temple guests before heading off, the others staying for lunch which I didn’t fancy. Back into Gyeong-ju to my hostel to get my bags which I was allowed to leave and off to the bus station to Daegu, home of the 2011 world athletics championships but what else I have no idea yet.

Coming Up – Daegu and beyond !!

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