Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Apr 02 2012

Korea, part three

It was out to the outskirts of Busan this fine morning, first on the metro, which rose above the ground for a lovely view of the city backed by mountains, and then back down again, followed by a short bus ride up into the hills to the Golden Spring Temple, a temple that was, appropriately enough, built over a spring that is supposed to have golden waters.

It is a lovely temple, or at least the few parts accessible are nice; much of it is still under repairs after one of the buildings collapsed a year or so ago, and the guidebooks have yet to mention this. Monks were walking around, fixing vending machines, etc., while groups of people prayed inside of clear plastic tents set up outside some of the temple buildings, many of which were painted in a pleasant array of blues. The weather was warmer, a few cherry blossoms had appeared, accompanied by a mix of sounds including tingling bells, monks chanting, and later on, the screeches of schoolgirls as the complex was invaded by groups on field trips.

The same bus took us back down the mountain, where a shirt vendor chatted with surprising success considering he spoke no English or Chinese, and we don’t speak any Korean. I suppose there’s more of a connection between the languages than I’d realized.

Next on the to-do list was change money, which turned out to be an exercise in realizing just how inefficient Korean banks are (the answer: quite). I sat outside a series of banks that couldn’t change NT dollars until we found one that could, and it still took forever for them to get around to it. Our luck changed, however, when we were informed at the high-speed rail station that we could get a discount if we were four traveling together and seated facing each other. We got some food for the 30-minute trip to Xingeongju, where we alighted to find ourselves alone on a fantastically designed, extremely empty platform. Outside, we thrust aside the advances of the taxi drivers, insisting on taking the bus out to Bulguksa Temple.

At first I thought the Bulguksa Temple would be a repeat of the morning’s temple experience, as parts of it were also cordoned off for repairs, and the interior was filled with raucous schoolchildren on field trips, all lining up to pet a golden pig statue in front of one of the temples. After they left, the place was deserted and forlorn, a little sad. Opening hours lasted until 6pm, but we lingered as the staff closed up the doors of the various temple buildings.

Then, as we were about to leave, a monk appeared, striding across the square, followed by another, and another. We followed them back inside, and saw them slipping into the main temple building, whose windows were now glowing red. A faint murmur issued from it. Another pair of monks, one rather burly and bespectacled, stood next to a large drum in the corner, looking at their watches. At a certain point, they began an elaborate drum piece, handing off the sticks to each others at intervals. Other monks were circling the statues in the squares, bowing at certain points. The drum monks finished their work and went over to play what looked like a huge fish as a gong rang sonorously from another temple building, and then they, too, opened the door into the red interior, from which the chanting was growing louder. I felt like I’d slipped into a Miyazaki movie, where the temple comes to life at night with all kinds of strange beings lingering just out of sight. It was great.

We weren’t kicked out, but gently reminded that we’d stayed way past closing time, and we walked down the dark path, back to the modern world, where we eventually found a bus heading back towards town. The driver had no idea what we were saying when we asked how much the fare was, just staring at us and bobbing his head to the music on the speakers, and when he let us off at the train station, he indicated that we didn’t have to pay. That was nice of him. In fact, everyone has been very nice to us. Except the bank people, who weren’t nice at all. Perhaps everyone else has been trying to make up for them.

It was splattering rain as we finished dinner at a pseudo-Italian place in town and set off in search of a hotel for the night. Geongju, for some reason, seems to be the love hotel capital of Korea, so we ended up in a place featuring quite a selection of movies with punny titles, but it will have to do.

posted by Poagao at 10:53 pm  

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