Sunday, January 17, 2010

Gyeong ju

My apologies for slacking recently, I've been getting into the groove and neglected to update. I'm especially excited to share these pictures. Two weeks ago, I met a nice Korean gal named Kyoung Hya. We bonded over a late night/early morning (7:00am) breakfast after the bar. She introduced me to her sister and asked what I hoped to see in Korea. I said anything she thought was important or fun. So the next week, she invited me to Gyeong ju, a town famous for its historic Buddhist temples and shrines. I ended up having one of my most educational and adventurous days yet in Korea, thanks in no small part to the lovely Koreans that showed me around.

Juyeong Lee (left), Kyoung Hya (right). Their friend Sang Hee also came along, and took most of the pictures that you see me in. This was taken atop Mount Tohamsan, our first stop. A took a bus up the mountain to see the Seokguram Grotto, home of a very impressive Buddha.
I got this photo online, since pictures weren't allowed. The girls tried to trick me into taking a photo to see how badly I'd get yelled at as a rule-breaking foreigner. Luckily, the enormous sign inside had a convenient translation that read "NO PHOTOS." Nice try.

My likely punishment had I taken a picture: spend the day making things up as the Free English tour guide!

Fresh mountain spring water. It was a silly picture themed day.
A typical Korean sidewalk. I make my way past dozens of vendors like this one every day on my way to work. It's quite an experience for eyes and the nose.
I had many opportunities for quality time with Buddha (there were shrines everywhere). Despite my relative ignorance of the religion, I tried to give the man his props.

These are some of the tiles that make up traditional old-world Asian roofing. At various stands around Gyeong ju it's possible to write your own message on one and have it displayed. This picture gives a sense of the international tourist traffic that comes through. Allow me to translate the only one I can read, fourth from left: Caracas, Venezuela. You have a beautiful country that is an honor to see. From the other size of the world, with respect. Douglas Majete.

At peace.
Another picture from atop the mountain. From what I've seen, there is something so ancient and mystical about nature in the orient. When I find myself especially caught up in it, I'm just about waiting for a little man to appear with a flute to play me a traditional folk song to complete the eastern feel.

Korean pottery barn. Couldn't resist, really. Most buildings of the town had this style of roofing. You don't really find many in Daegu, or in much of Korea I think, but as a major tourist destination, Gyeong ju seems to strive to preserve the traditional old world style.

Who's afraid of the Bulguksa temple guards? Not I.
It didn't appear in "Rocky," but this is a very famous stair set. It leads up into the Bulguksa temple, the largest in all of Korea. Constructed in 751, and restored to its "former splendor" in 1973, it was a breathtaking site to walk through and observe.
Kyoung Hya and I inside the courtyard.
Ninja antics. Stay stealth, young grasshopper.
I was really struck by the angles. Here, you can see some of the beautifully detailed painting done on the wood. These designs decorate throughout.
The day was capped by a stop at a street vendor for a little snack. What you ask? Oh, well salted caterpillar cocoons. If I had to use one word to describe the taste, I would say "earthy." The texture was about what you'd expect. A little crunch followed by a soft chew. I spent half the time trying to figure out what the hell I was eating while also trying hard not to think about what I was really eating.

Cocoons really aren't bad. I ate that whole cup, and not just to make a point. The girls think I must be some special kind of crazy foreigner (I should mention that they love the things and gobbled their own cups). I tried eel the other night with Mr. Lee and when I told him I'd never had it before, he announced that I could probably live in the jungle and eat anything.
The sun sets on a great day.