Spring in Korea, a set on Flickr.More photos displaying God's handiwork of spring in Korea. The most recent photos are of Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul.
Monday, April 29, 2013
Saturday, April 27, 2013
I enjoyed peeking over the walls in Yangdong Village, catching a glimpse of daily life. In others, we were able to enter onto the property. True to any place, some of the homes looked very orderly and neat, while others appeared spartan, and still others were quite cluttered. Laundry was strung next to some homes, their brighter colors contrasting with the natural-colored buildings, bare trees, and brown grass. Satellite dishes were mounted on a number of the thatched roof homes - definitely a modern upgrade. Fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, and a few fire hydrants were prominent - reminders of the flammable nature of these old structures. Quite a number of homes had dogs tied up in the yards, but they seemed quite well-behaved and were very tolerant of strangers walking by. One scruffy one was particularly friendly and wanted some attention.
For lunch, we ate in a nondescript traditional homey restaurant, likely a home whose front room was converted into an eating area. Taking our shoes off (as is custom in Korea), we sat on cushions around the low tables. Here we enjoyed Kalguksu (meaning “knife noodles”). Ready to pay, we called for the lady who served us, but she was not around. We found our cook out in the potato field, working with hand tools (they had no machinery or tractors). After visiting another hill in Yangdong, we boarded a bus and headed back to Gyeongju.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
After a night of sleeping on the yo mattress on the heated floor of our room, we got up fairly early to head to the Yandong Village. Placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2010, it is described as reflecting “the distinctive aristocratic Confucian culture and architectural style” of the early Joseon Dynasty. Still home to around 500 residents in the 160 tile and thatched-roof homes, I was looking forward to seeing a traditional village in action.
After a 35 minute bus ride, we reached the outer limits of the village. A walk-through of the visitor’s center gave us an idea about the layout of the village and some of the notable buildings contained within it.
Walking past the currently used elementary school whose architecture resembled the sloped tile roofs of the much older homes in the village, we had our first view of the village. The thatched-roof homes were found in the flat land below and on the lower layers of the hills, while the tiled homes of the VIPs were found on top. A few cars were interspersed in the scene, feeling rather incongruous with the old homes - of which 54 are over 200 years old.
Farmers and gardeners were out in the early morning, working up the ground. Others were doing spring chores around their homes. A cat sunned itself on the thatched roof, alternately licking itself and stretching. Another perched on top of one of many ceramic kimchi pots placed in front of a house. Spring birds happily chirped; roosters crowed; a few pheasants flapped their colorful wings, landing in some taller dried grass. A few men were already gathered outside the tiny local “supermarket,” already in a jovial mood as they enjoyed a few bottles of soju. The mud brick walls surrounding the thatched roof properties had matching thatched tops, braided and winding up the hill like the back of a dragon. Some gates were formed out of bamboo, arranged in a decorative pattern. The sweet scent of flowering trees caused me to linger and savor the moment. As we made our way up the narrow roads, the compact homes made out of mud walls and thatched roofs gave way to more spacious homes with tiled roofs. Signs revealed that these were the head family homes of the clans of the village, along with some wealthier members. Such homes were typically built on the higher portions of the hill, commanding a great view of the area. From here, the distant and uninspiring high-rise apartments were visible; I much preferred the traditional architecture.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Throughout the historical section of Gyeongju, what looked like huge lumps of grass-covered earth dominated the area. These are actually ancient tombs of royalty and nobles of the Silla Dynasty. One of the more famous tombs - Cheonmachong- was discovered during an excavation in the 1970’s. If you want to get an idea of what the interior construction of the tombs looked like (through a cross-section display), Daerungwon Tomb complex is the place to go. Inside are also replicas of some of the crowns, jewelry, weapons, and pottery once found in the tomb.
Monday, April 22, 2013
We spent a short while that late afternoon at Anapji Pond. Constructed by King Munmu in 674 as a pleasure garden to commemorate unification of the Korean peninsula under Silla rule, it currently has several large pavilions located next to the manmade pond. Inside the pavilions were displays of well-preserved relics found in the pond when it was drained for repair in 1975. Many of the relics date back to the year 935, when the original buildings burned. I found the small wooden tablets with writing on them (they wrote on the wood before paper was used here) fascinating by how it could have survived in water so long. My Korean friend explained to me what the sides of the multifaceted dice meant - definitely a drinking game tool. With the cold, whipping wind, we didn’t linger and after a walk around the organically winding pond with a small island in the middle, we proceeded onwards.
In our walk through Wolseong Park (once the site of Banwolseong, a fortress), we passed by the only intact building - Seokbinggo, nicknamed ‘The Stone Ice House.’ Dating back to the early 18th century, it was used as a giant refrigerator to store food. The dark stone interior, with its curved ceiling, reminded me of the similarly shaped cisterns in Tunisia.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
As the public bus made its way up the steep, winding road, we were glad that we decided to not hike to Seokgulam Grotto, yet another UNESCO site. Colorful lanterns strung closely together lined both sides of the winding gravel road, leading visitors from the parking lot and all the way to the ticketing area of the site. In front of the ticket booth, adjumonie women with their characteristic wide-brimmed sun visors securely fastened with tied tied scarves displayed their snacks for sale - veggies, sprouts, and roasted chestnuts. Hardly the types of snacks/junk food you’d encounter at a stall in the USA.
According to the short history printed on my 4,000 won ticket, the Seokgulam Grotto is assumed to be built around 751 AD. Considered one of the best Buddhist shrines in the world, it shares the UNESCO site distinction with the neighboring Bulguksa Temple. History states that Kim Dae-Seong built Bulguksa for his parents who were still living at that time, and had Seokguram built for his parents of a previous life. More colorful lanterns led us yet further up the hill until we reached the wooden building with a grass-covered (still brown) mound above it. Prominent “no photography” signs indicated that yet again, we could only look. Once inside the narrow space, we had a limited view of the famous grotto. A single large pane of glass prevented us from getting closer to take in the full view. We could, however, see the 3.48m high Buddha statue carved out of granite, seated on an elevated platform w/ a lotus on top. Surrounding it were relief carvings of some disciples, but many of them were obscured from view.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
On one closed gate (with a sign next to it saying “off limits”) were two figures. The one on the right side had a face that looked like a human of Asian-descent. The one on the left was rather disturbing, with penetrating bulging eyes, strange facial hair, and a scowling mouth with curled tongue and fanged teeth. On its nipples were radiating hairs, reminding me of a spider. Both figures had bumpy, almost knotted muscles in the arms and legs. Both yielded swords. Do they represent good and evil? I’d love to learn more about these figures.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Walking around the side of a building, we were treated to a rather large display of mini stone sculptures left by visitors. Each was comprised of irregular stones ranging from the size of a hand down to a pebble, carefully stacked up to nine stones high. These were placed on the elevated ground, on larger rocks, and on the ceramic tiles of the perimeter wall. Asking my Korean friend what they signified, she briefly explained that these toltops were formed by people seeking good fortune. Each stone might represent a particular wish, or (as a website further added) or a family member. She added that while a person created their stack, they would have to be very careful not to topple another person’s toltop, as this would bring bad luck to such a clumsy stacker.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Inside the halls were more national treasures. Made from gilt-bronze, two of the Buddha statues were cast around the late 8th or 9th centuries. Each was placed on top of beautifully carved altars. Behind the statues were figurative murals, many of which were faded and difficult to discern. I liked the relief design of hands behind one of the non-treasure Buddhas, radiating out from the head in concentric circles, each circle containing diminishing sizes of hands with an eye in each. The ceilings of the halls were also painted. Pink lotus-shaped lanterns hung from the ceiling. Along the wall were small white lamps with faux flickering lights; perhaps this was a fire prevention solution. Entrance was allowed in only some of the halls. Photography, unfortunately, was forbidden in all the halls.
Another national treasure, the sarira pagoda, looked more like a stone lantern, sheltered under its own open pavilion. The lotus flower was prominently featured in many of its carvings and designs. Faces of the Buddha, Bodhisattvas, and sinjang were carved in the rounded central part of the pagoda. Believed to be carved during the Goryeo Dynasty (beginning in 918 AD), it appears to be stylistically influenced by art from the Silla Dynasty. The Sarira Pagoda was taken to Japan during Japanese occupation, but in 1933 was retrieved and rebuilt.