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Published: August 14th 2009
In June we took another day trip and went to visit Gyeongju, Korea's museum without walls. Gyeongju as the capital of the ancient Shilla Kingdom, one of the main three Korean Kingdoms, which reigned from 57BC to 935AD. As a result, it is very rich in Korean history. After we got off of the train we went across the street in search of food. We didn't have any luck finding a restaurant so Mike settled for Dunkin Donuts and I ate the peanut butter and honey sandwich I had brought with me. To supplement our meager lunch, we bought a small bag of mandarin oranges from a woman on the street. Although there were probably close to 10 mandarin oranges, they did not last very long.
We continued on foot, making our way through town to Gyeongju National Museum. We were about half way there when we were easily distracted by large sprawling fields with small 'hills', Tumuli Park. After staying exclusively in large cities for the last four months, it was extremely refreshing to take a walk through flowers and other plant life. Once we made our way through the field, we were as close as we could get
(in that area) to the mound tombs without climbing over the shrubs which were clearly planted to keep people off of the grass. The mound tombs, tumuli are graves of people who were important to the Shilla Kingdom. The height of the tomb corresponds with how important the person was, the more important the person, the higher the mound. In very close proximity to the mounds we discovered the oldest astrological observatory in East Asia, Cheomseongdae Observatory. I had seen it in my students' 2nd grade English textbook and was rather disappointed by it's size (9.4 meters in height, 5.4 meters in diameter) which pales in the epicness of its historical importance to the Kore,an people.
The entrance to Gyeongju National Museum was interesting in the fact that tickets to enter the museum were free, but you could not enter without a ticket. The grounds of the museum were rather beautifully arranged, however it was a drag having to go in and out of buildings all of the time, as the individual buildings are rather small. The exhibits we saw consisted mainly of different kinds of Korean art (mainly ancient local art), pottery, weaponry, civilization models, etc. One of
the saddest things about Korean history is how few of their buildings and artwork still exist. Since the temples were built out of wood, they constantly need to be restored and rebuilt. One of the most memorable exhibits was a model of a nine story pagoda and the buildings that surrounded it. It was accompanied by a TV documentary in which you could watch the whole thing burn to the ground. Tragic.
I would not truly be recounting our trip to Gyeongju if I left out the tale of our new friend. We had just finished our first exhibit of the museum and were entering the second when a man, I swear he came out of nowhere, or at least out of a deep dark abyss of shadows, approached us and asked us if we could help him.
"What do you need?"
"I want to learn English... Can I ask you a few questions?"
After that, there was no turning back. Our new friend, whose name I no longer recollect, proceeded to 'escort' us around all afternoon in order to practice his English speaking skills. His helpfulness quickly became overbearing. As we went from exhibit to
exhibit he always followed closely behind us tapping on the signs with his pen to show me where the English explanations were (because clearly, I would not be capable of realizing that I could not read the Korean, Chinese, and Japanese explanations if it were not for his tapping). What should have been an enjoyable day at the museum quickly turned into Mission Impossible, as I crept through the museum trying to keep ample space between us. Why didn't I just tell him to get lost? I was so surprised that Mike seemed okay with this guys presence that I didn't have the courage to tell him to get lost. Later however, it was discovered that Mike and I were like minded. When I asked him why he didn't just tell him to get lost, he replied, I couldn't think of a good reason to....
After we had our fill of the museum, or saw as much as it as we could tolerate with pen tapping boy, we made a visit to Anapji Pond, together with our relentless tour guide. The pond was quite pretty although rather small in size. It was built in the 600s by King Munmu.
After the fall of the Silla Kingdom, the pond was not taken care of and has only begun to be restored about 30 years ago. They are still trying to recreate what they believe the area around the pond looked like and were in the process of fixing/building when we visited it. The sun was just beginning to head into the west and it seemed like a nice place to sit and relax. After we had our fill of Anapji Pond, we tried to loose our guide by going to the beach before heading back to Daegu, however, when our 'guide' told us it was over an hour away, he urged us to cross the road and see a fortress, or rather, the former location of a fortress. After seeing the ground where the fortress had once stood, we took a back way into Tumuli Park and were able to walk right up to the tombs this time. After taking a few more photographs of the tombs, it was time for us to return to Daegu and bide a cheerful farewell to our new friend.
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