Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Gyeongju- Korea's old capital

This past weekend was our last three day weekend until Christmas or next year, so we took advantage of the time and went to Gyeongju. Gyeongju is Korea's old capital city and is almost on the opposite or east coast of Korea from Gwangju. It's full of old cultural relics. Matt and I went with Caitlin and Justin, our friends, neighbors, and fellow Readingtown/Avalon  couple. 

Throughout Gyeongju, there are tumulis- large earthen burial mounds. They were mostly for royalty, but if you had enough cash you could buy yourself a mound. Most are single mounds, but some are double mounds for husband and wife- like the mound on the right in the picture above. These mounds are from about the 3rd-6th centuries. 
We were saying as were walking around them that they felt both surreal and kind of made us feel like we were in a video game. 
Sunset over almost thousands years old burial mounds. 

This is Anapji, which was originally a much, much larger palace complex built in the 600s. However, like most historical and cultural relics in Korea, all we can see is the reconstructed version as almost everything was destroyed by Japan or China in their invasions. However, this was a nice place to see at dusk with the pond lit up and the sliver of a moon rising. 

Satuday, we went to Bulguksa, which I couldn't say outloud without making it sound Eastern European. It isn't Eastern European at all- it's Korean! It's so Korean that UNESCO deemed it worthy of being a world cultural heritage site. It's pretty impressive, but as its one of Korea's most famous temples- it was crowded. 
Inside the temple complex was this brass warthog or wild pig of sorts. There were many Koreans taking their while touching this animal. We don't know anything about it, but decided we probably shouldn't pass up the opportunity to have our photo taken with it. 
Matt and a little Korean boy building cairns. Matt lost a fingernail last time he tried one of these, albeit it was on a much larger scale. 

From Bulguksa, we rode a long stop and go bus ride up the mountain to Seokguram, which has a large stone Buddha in a grotto. We eventually got off the bus and walked up faster. This should have been a sign for what was to come. Once in the park, we waited in another long line to get into the grotto. Here you can see Caitlin and Justin and the line behind us to quickly walk through the grotto. There were no photos allowed in the grotto. All the Koreans were taking them, but Matt said I shouldn't, and he seems to know about when its ok to take a picture of a Buddha and when its not. 
This excursion took a long time, but was not a loss. The grotto was really impressive. Also, we met this funny Israeli couple in their late fifties or early sixties. They basically asked us if they could cut in line with us by just doing it. We asked them where they were from and the woman responded, "We're Israeli. Americans wouldn't just ask to cut in line!" (Israelis kind of have a reputation as obnoxious travelers). But they were really funny! We talked in line and found out that this was their 3rd trip to Korea since the 70s. We picked their brains over how Korea has changed since then. They told us that they travel a lot, not because they are wealthy, but they made traveling the world a priority in their lives. The woman was really great, she was telling us stories about tripping on Peyote in South America accidently and other fun stories. We kept running into them in town for the rest of the day after we walked down the mountain and they hitch hiked. 

Below is a lotus field. This photo is taken from a pagoda in the middle of it where we enjoyed beers after a hard day of sight seeing. Matt tried to start lotus plants early this summer, but due to several factors, they didn't make it. So, he was determined to gather as many lotus seeds as he could.
The problem was that other people had the same idea and all seed pods within arms' reach had been plucked and lotuses grow in water and mud. Matt and Justin rigged a tool and choreographed moves where one held the other as he leaned sideways and reached for the pods. They were surprisingly successful. Caitlin and I laughed as we watched this charade through the binoculars. Below, I think they are discussing a lotus-retrieval strategy. 

On Sunday morning, we rented bikes and rode to the Namsan mountain. We had a for-real hike. We started on the east side, went up to the top, down the west side, back up to the top and down to where we started! It was kind of intense. I was definitely the slowest member of our pack so they kept making me be in front so I could set the pace. This is a good method because otherwise they would always have to stop and wait for me. I'm not in awful shape, I'm just not a mountaineer. The picture below is one "trail" we walked UP. We lost the "trail" and had to do a little scrambling up the rocks. 

But all the huffin' and puffin' was definitely worth it. It was cloudy and misty, but otherwise a lovely day for  going up and down both sides of the mountain. 
(Check out my sweet gear. My pant legs are zipped off and tied around me head. Yeah.) Also, a sweet Buddha carved into the side of a mountain. 

We rode our bikes back to the bus station. We had to take a bus to Daegu to get  bus to Gwangju, but we couldn't get tickets on the a bus until 4 hours later. We passed the time by going to a DVD bang and watching "Michael Clayton", which was pretty good. We finally made it back to Gwangju at 2am. Good weekend. 

(I realize I only make blog posts when I go away for the weekend. I know I need to write some posts about my regular life.)


I speak for machines said...

So, so gorgeous. Japan also has a number of burial mounds, yet more proof of their original colonization by a shared ancestor of current day Koreans (the Japanese would rather not admit they have Korean heritage).

Also, I am definitely coming to Korea in the springtime for a visit. Laura, another SMCM friend, is also jetting off to Korea for english teaching (in Seoul), so it makes perfect sense that I should make a trek out there to see all my SMCM friends!

I'm thinking mid to late spring. Do you guys know when the cherry blossoms bloom there?

- Sarah

HPB said...

man i wish i had zipper pants so i could be as cool as you.

skype soon? eh? eh?