Tag Archives: Gyeongju

The Temple of Easy Balance

On a day of August heat and humidity, we went to find Gyeongju’s famous temple, Bulguk-sa.  A short bus ride out of town and we arrived at the site of the ancient temple.  The temple was originally built in the 6th century, during the the Shilla Dynasty, and it remained intact for over 1000 years.  Bulguk-sa was burned to the ground in the late 16th century.  The temple served as a stronghold and meeting place for Korean fighters during an eight-year Japanese occupation of Korea.  Since 1608, the temple complex at Bulguk-sa has been meticulously reconstructed and stands today as a Unesco World Cultural Heritage Site and a stunningly beautiful and peaceful place to be, despite the swarms of Korean and foreign tourists.

The temple complex is remarkable for its classical architecture and all the beauty that comes with simplicity.  The humble layout and style of the complex is also reflected in the Buddha statues and peace they inherently emanate.

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Brittany’s favorite teaching was that of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, who opts to be reborn until all sentient beings reach enlightenment.

During our wanderings, we came to a beautiful path just to the side of the main fare wand walked up it a ways.  It’s desolation in the midst of the hundreds of visitors made us think we missed some sort of keep out sign, but the whimsical call of untrodden fallen leaves was too tempting, and we were drawn to walk along a beautiful old stone drainage, and we managed a few moments of silence before returning to the main path.

Definitely among the most striking features of Bulguk-sa was the Pavilion of Rock Cairns (so dubbed by us).  The pictures show it better, but I will say that there was something very magical about this place.  Cairns were everywhere, along the roof tiles, on doors, and covering the grounds.  We decided quickly to have cairns throughout our one day garden.IMG_4073IMG_4093IMG_4086

After leaving the temple complex, we took a two mile hike up the mountain to another national treasure, Seokguram Grotto, which was built in the 8th century and is made of huge granite stones which had to be carried many miles on mountain paths for the construction.

Of course, at this point, lunch was necessary, so we snacked on gas station PB&J’s (though what was inside them was more like mildly peanut flavored whipped cream than our idea of peanut butter) and some famous Gyeongjubbang (Gyeongju bread), small pastries filled with a sweet red bean paste.


As most people decided to drive or bus to the site, we had the mountain path pretty much to ourselves, and we were ever drawn onward by the mysterious sound of a gong ringing through the forest (at the top we discovered that you could pay 1000 won to give the gong a whack).  The trail was also adorned every now and then with signs showing the tragic death of a friendly bear protecting his child from falling rocks.


The Grotto was even more crowded and we were pushed through the small site, but the view from the mountainside was most excellent, as we could gaze out to several peaks on the horizon.  And it is to that southern horizon that we travel next.


And just like that, Gyeongju fades behind as we travel on…




After a few issues finding jobs, we finally got some ace positions in Songpa-Gu, Seoul.  So, after much confusion and a lot of scrambling for jobs, we arrived in Seoul with a month of free time before we actually start.  So, as was once suggested to us, when in doubt, we headed south.

We wrapped up our time in Seoul by going to drop our luggage off with our new school. After lugging 200 pounds of luggage across the entire Seoul subway system, we showed up good and drenched in sweat to meet our new boss for the first time. After giving us ice water and ensuring that we weren’t about to pass out (even though we looked like we might), we were able to tour our school, meet the current teachers, and say hello to some of the adorable and enthusiastic students. The school is relatively small (with only two foreign teachers and about 5 Korean teachers) and 7 or 8 classrooms. Everyone at the school was wonderfully kind.  The bosses even took us to lunch where we had our first Hanjeongsik, or Korean set menu, which included plenty of fermented vegetables, soups, rice, pork, and fish.

The next day, we left Seoul to make our way Southeast. We are now in Gyeongju, the capital of the ancient Silla Dynasty (57 BC-935 AD), a dynasty that ruled the Korean Peninsula for 1000 years. There are a lot of historical and museum-y things to be seen, but we spent the first night spending a ridiculous amount of money on two shots of whisky (though the bottomless Doritos and chocolates that came with it almost made up for the cost) and hanging out in our somewhat dingy hostel with wet and hairy bathroom floors.

Seoul to Gyeongju

Then came our second experience with han-jeon-sik, and the time we learned the name for good.  Koreans are not big on breakfast, so hearing that western breakfast could be found down the road, we headed off with thoughts of eggs and buttered toast.  The Korean waitress, seeing that we knew none of what the menu meant, pointed to han-jeon-sik nodding approvingly.  Assuming this would be the western-style breakfast and approximating its meaning to be first meal (as hana is the Korean word for one), we happily agreed.  What we forgot, however, is that Korea is Hanguk, and the prefix han actually signified this was a traditional Korean meal.  We soon had another traditional Korean feast sitting before us, including a whole fish, bowls of anchovies covered in chili sauce, a sort of mayonaisse and cucumber salad with tiny eggs in it, and plenty of kimchi (fermented and spiced vegetables) – at 8 AM.  So we learned something new today.

After our breakfast, we started walking to view some of the tombs and other sites in the town. Unfortunately, it’s over 100 degrees and the most humidity either of us have ever experienced. We were driven in within a few hours, but got to meander a little.


oldest surviving astronomical observatory in East Asia

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This trip feels much more like a foreign country than Seoul did. Even though the language is so different (and the weather), there are strange things that make it feel the same as home.  Korea, like anywhere foreign, feels strangely familiar at times, despite its differences.  Thankfully, the coffee craze is on in Korea, and we can indulge as we adjust to our new country.

Twenty-three more days left of wandering before we start our new jobs, and some beautiful places to see.  Next stop, Busan.