Culture


It’s been two weeks since I returned from Thailand and I still miss it. Among the top of the list includes:

From city to country these shrines are ever abundant across the landscape of Thailand. Behind it you can just make up the pick up game of soccer by all the boys wearing sneakers in a dirt lot.

1. The laid-back mentality and generous hospitality of the locals.

2. The amazing cuisine (I definitely prefer the fresh vs. fermented style of authentic Asian cuisines which was a huge difference between Korea and Thailand), I’ve always enjoyed Thai food back home but it pales in comparison to the amazing variety and richness of the local dishes while there. Not to mention the dirt cheap prices. Example? Roasted Sea Bass and deep-fried Morning Glory with hard-boiled eggs.

If you can judge something by its lowest common denominator then let me just say this "Even the mall food was Good!"

3. The warm temperature in the 80s spent beach/pool side and some (but not all) of the cheap yet fairly decadent hotels I stayed at.

Catching some rays and reading some Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay with a Tiger Lager in hand. Oh yeah, those are waterfalls coming off the arches on the far end...

Instead of providing a full recap, my posts on Thailand are going to be focused upon two of the real highlights of my trip (which coincidentally I managed to actually take some photos of). The weekend market at Mo Chit in Bangkok and the island of Koh Samoi in Southern Thailand.

While I used to frequent the farmers’ market in my college-town of Bellingham I was in no way prepared for the daunting size and spectrum represented in the weekend market here. For example, at one point we became slightly lost in between the pet section and the florist section. Both were indoors and easily over an acre in size. The flora section was a nice break actually after the fauna section, not just because of the far more pleasing aroma. While it was nice to see so many dogs that I rarely see in Korea (Black Labs, Newfoundlands and German Shepherds to name a few) it was slightly depressing to see the size of the cages they were all enclosed in.

Leave a trail of bread crumbs when you enter...least you never exit the labyrinth of the indoor section of the market.

Immediately upon walking in I snagged a young coconut juice (best cure for the celebratory Christmas Eve night prior) for a mere 65 cents. This nectar of the gods has the same pH level of human blood and, fun fact of the day, was used as a substitute for saline when supplies were low during WWII. This was one of many different forms of juices you could purchase here, ranging from the familiar, Lemon, to the exotic, Rambutan, options were plentiful.

"Wait, so which one is the best to mix with snake's blood, the original Red Bull and Samsung?" Samsung is Thai Whiskey not the Korean company and Red Bull is from Thailand but has a different recipe here, syrupy and kinda feels like it has amphetamines in it...

Food was great as the small noodle/curry stalls operated on every corner. I gained quite a bit of respect for them right of the bat when I noticed that the basil, green onion and cilantro was all still alive, growing in vases in the center of the table. These as well as the green beans, cabbage and bean sprouts, were definitely taken advantage of while I feasted right next to other, Thai, American and Japanese, customers at the small plastic tables provided. Oh, did I mention the abundance of LIMEs in Thailand?! This delectable citrus is one of my favorites and I had developed a craving something fierce the prior. Add on to this that some stalls had small, mobile garden patches nearby and the atmosphere was superb.  Needless to say my hunger was sated and then some.

BANGARANG!

Sa-wat-dee kraup Green Thumb.

The diversity found at the locale was also amazing to me. You would see an Australian family on holiday, all drinking some Singha lager (Granny included),   shoulder to shoulder with a family of Sikhs on vacation from the subcontinent. The cacophony of different dialects and languages coming at you from all directions (megaphones, hawkers, conversations right next to you) was slightly disorienting at first. But much like a lot of the discordant music I like (definitely thinking of one of my favorite bands, Converge) after some time you fall into the groove of it and appreciate the harmonies therein.

Seoul is rather limited in comparison when it comes to cultural diversity. There is and immigrant population but it is by no means a real tourist destination. While the foreign district Itaewon and my area of residence may be exceptions, in terms of a large variety, the majority of non-natives you see here fit two types. American GIs and English teachers from one of the English dominant countries with Americans and Canadians being the majority here in Seoul.

The region I call home, Youngdeungpo-Gu, actually has the highest concentration of immigrants in the whole city. These are Chinese workers, if you look around closely the signs alternate between Hangul and Chinese characters. Some blocks are completely lacking in Neon signs and Hangul and are 100% Chinese. As my good Korean-American friend told me “It’s like I was magically transported from Seoul to Beijing.”

Did dabble in a little budget commerce myself, though they were all undoubtedly knock-offs I was pretty satisfied at what, for me, was quite a bit of shopping. For around $15 I purchased a pair of Chelsea home match trunks, RayBan shades, Diesel sandals and decent board shorts. Not too shabby for someone who abhors the mall and shops rarely to never. I was baffled at the Arabian gentleman who purchased a large quantity of Thai high-end cutlery and china plates and whatnot. Figure they must offer some shipping options. Personally, I wouldn’t want to try to hauling that through the packed, bustling crowds to get out.

More packed than a Seoul rush hour subway. No easy feat.

One thing I was glad we didn’t encounter across the vast yet cramped expanse of the market was the rather large cock-fighting section. Muay Thai matches with potential broken bones? Sure, they are volunteering for that. Animals eviscerating each other with razor blades? Not my bag. The tourist tuktuks smashing their way through the crowds with loud music out of low-quality speakers also wasn’t the most impressive.

Nonchalant as all get out. These kids were killin it.

On the flipside there was a multitude of singers and musicians busking on corners. From older gentlemen playing traditional drums to the groups or solo young boys in vibrant attire playing these wooden, almost Peruvian wind-pipe reminiscent, instruments. All in all I had a wonderful time and would definitely recommend this stop to anyone visiting Bangkok.

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I’ve decided to devote a little more of my time here to documenting what books I’m enjoying in. As a child I had an insatiable appetite for reading and though I don’t go through many a week like I used to I still love to sit in the park and read a book or hasten the perceived time of subway transit with an epic tome. One of the highlights of solo hiking this summer was trekking to a good vantage and taking a breather while reading a chapter or two. You’re never lonely when you can dive into a great story!

The last two novels I’ve read have been superb reads and definitely add some further variety to the already eclectic library in my apartment. One of the things I truly cherish about good literature is the ability of a talented author to transport you to distant lands/cultures. Stepping into a different perspective in an elsewhere setting can be a wonderful salve for the occasional culture burnout days.

The first of these books was Hitching Rides with Buddha (first released as Hokkaido Highway Blues in the States) by Canadian author Will Ferguson. The author spent 5 years in Japan as an English teacher. To conclude his time in there he embarks on an epic journey to follow the fall of the Sakura (cherry blossoms) across the length of Japan. The sheer scope of his proposed journey from the Southernmost point of Cape Sata to Sapporo in the far North is admirable in its ambition. Add to this his means of travel, sticking out his opposable and hitchhiking, and you have a travel book unique when compared to many others.

Ferguson has a cutting wit that has let him form a colorful perspective on Japan’s culture over during his time in the gateway to the East which is evidenced in vivid and often hilarious quips throughout his journey. This tempered with a somewhat profound sense of the symbolic and a dash of personal truth finding about what his time here has really meant created a book that I voraciously read in a handful of days.

I’ve read many a fellow expat’s blog since deciding to come over to the land of the morning clam but most of them have centered around my host country and not the bordering ones. It was very refreshing to read such a clever and candid account of a different culture. Noting similarities and differences was very engaging. There is also a stark contrast between even the best written blog with its brief and fractured installments compared to a well written novel with an overall story and interweaving themes.

Walking on a path of falling cherry blossoms.

Japan has always intrigued me with its odd tetter-totter between a pervasive and intricate, sense of tradition balanced against a ravenous appetite for modernity. Similarities between this juxtaposition of old-school social hierarchy and cutting edge technological lifestyles are echoed strongly here in Korea.

The two top references for my impressions of Japan are two distinctly different sources. My father has told me numerous stories about his time as a high school exchange student in Japan in the early 70s. He spent two years taking correspondence courses at the University of Washington learning Japanese and his anecdotes offered me a unique glimpse of a foreign land as even a young child. Asking him about the miniature Japanese instrument ornaments we hung on our Christmas tree is the furthest reaching memory I have.

The other source is the Japanese author Haruki Murakami. His vivid prose and sometimes baffling stories are rich in the folklore and nuances of Japanese society. My brother and I have both been known to invest much time in his books and are always on the lookout for the newest release. Though using vastly different methods of delivery both Murakami and my father are exceptional storytellers in their own trademark manner and have formed in me a very vivid sense of Japan with little to no actual personal exposure.

Kinda like if Chaim Potok and Stanley Kubrick got together to make an LA Confidential-esque story.

The second novel of note for me was a work of stark and prodigious imagination by Michael Chabon (the Pulitzer Prize winning author of “The adventures of Kavalier and Klay”). The plot and setting of his story revolves around an audacious alter-history in which the Jewish societies displaced by the atrocities of the Holocaust did not relocate in the arid, scorching area of the Middle East but rather the cold, barren stretch of Sitka, Southern Alaska.

Surprisingly there was a proposal put before congress by the Secretary of the Interior, Harold L. Ickes, back in the late 1930s that had tried to establish this very state. The residents of Alaska at the time weren’t terribly receptive and the bill never got very far.

I haven’t read literature so steeped in Jewish culture since I discovered Chaim Potok in Jr High. The differences between these two authors of the same cultural bent is as vast as eons heavy continental drift in opposite direction. Both feature a disgraced potential Tzadik but that is as far as the similarities extend.

Though I have never been a huge mystery genre fan, the gumshoe protagonist with a raw, rampantly cynical outlook on life while he rapidly plummets to a gritty rock-bottom pulls you in. The dark setting of Sitka on the brink of transformation due to US Reclamation is an apt one. You can feel the weary, jaded yet survivalistic perseverance of the characters in this book.

Reuben Sandwiches and Mighty Aphrodite

Living in the area where I grew up in rural/suburban Western Washington there were not a lot of opportunities to be exposed to the Jewish culture firsthand. My father realized that at one point and tried to counter with his own one of a kind enrichment lessons. I still remember the night he bought a bunch of Reuben sandwiches, rented “Mighty Aphrodite” by Woody Allen and explained Hanukkah to my brother and I in elementary school. He’s Irish Catholic but is cool like that.

As different as these two books are they had a common appeal for me. They both had cultures I am unfamiliar with yet fascinated by as foundations for the stories they told. Ferguson does not spend the majority of his time with other expats, he communes with the locals and he espouses a perspective on not just the national identity but a regional as well.

Chabon religious/social outlooks, mores, stereotypes, cuisine and even slang (some authentic and some created for the book) for his alternate universe. He strikes a perfect balance between imagination and reality. I highly recommend both these books. If you are in the mood for a lighter style read Ferguson’s travel accounts. Those hungering for a top-notch fiction with a heavy plot from one of modern America’s literary proteges should check out Chabon’s sleuth story.

Check back soon for the next status post concerning paper cuts and written adventures. I just finished “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz and “Fool” by Christopher Moore.

Last Thursday was the field trip to the transportation safety education center (this is the term I’m using since my coworkers were confused about an adequate translation). This was actually the shortest and most uneventful field trip yet. The center is located in Omomkgyo which is only 20 minutes away.

I was thankful for this short duration as the continuous repetition of “Wheels on the Bus go ‘Round and ‘Round” was quickly draining my cognitive reserve as well as my consistently mellow temperament. Our driver was the same one that will give some of us a ride back to our apartments on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and I really enjoy his constant smile and cheerful attitude but his head-bobbing and waving of hands to the simple repeated children’s tune was slightly off-setting. Another 15 minutes more and I would have burnt out my typically gigantic well of patience and the fun factor would have taken a significant drop for all parties involved.

The field trip started with viewing a cheesy Korean anime about magic traffic light people who taught about how not to get hit by cars or other forms of transportation. It was all in Korean so I pretty much just dialed out for a bit, didn’t seem like I was missing much as even the kids quickly lost interest.

After the film we partook in some practice exercises and had numerous street-crossing demonstrations. I understand the necessity of instilling in these kids a healthy respect of the dangers of traffic here. This is a city of almost 12 million touting one of the highest population densities and where pedestrians don’t even have the right of way. Add on to this the ever-present scooters weaving between pedestrians on the sidewalk and red lights that seem more like a suggestion than a rigidly enforced rule sometime.

Couple this environment with a society that treasures their children and places a huge emphasis on their protection. I completely understand why so much extra education is geared towards being aware of the dangers presented by vehicles. Unfortunately this knowledge did nothing to alleviate my boredom. Common sense lessons in basic safety are devastatingly dull, especially in a foreign language.

Luckily enough the field trip concluded with a round of chaotic soccer and a trip to the large big-toy playground and the conclusion was quite entertaining. Huzzah!

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I’m sure most of you have heard of Rockabilly. Born in the early 1950s in rural America, specifically the Southern states. This blues and western swing influenced genre gains its name from the blending of Rock and Hillbilly and the term Rockabilly was originally an insulting term brandished against the early pioneers. Like many such slurs (think Yankee) it was embraced by the very people it was supposed to slight. I was a big fan of the Living End, Tiger Army and the Reverend Horton Heat back in my high school days but had thought those days of fandom were behind me. I was wrong.

This newfound appreciation was due to one epic catalyst known as the Rocktigers. This Korean outfit has even coined a new name for a subgenre within Rockabilly known as Kimchibilly. They play fast, vibrant tunes and the charisma blazing during their stand up bass solos, furious behind the head guitar riffs and wailing tunes of their lead singer truly gets you caught up in the moment. It doesn’t hurt that the charming frontwoman Velvet Geena is mischievously beautiful and quite willing to talk to any fan with a contagious enthusiasm.

I’ve been to two of their shows so far and always have a good time. Sometimes it takes putting a whole new spin on an old favorite to rekindle the love affair, but I’m glad to be a fan of Rockabilly once more. I just had to travel halfway across the globe to find some savage Asian musicians who were fed up with Kpop and ready to blaze a new trail by making inroads to a somewhat forgotten style of American Rock.

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This weekend was outstanding and one of my favorite so far in Seoul because it featured me partaking in two of my favorite pasttimes: hiking and shows. I’ll get to the show in my next post but I want to use this one just to detail the sheer epicness that is Bukhansan.

Standing over 200m above sea level at its highest peak and spanning a vast area of 78.45 sq km this is no measly park. With over 100 different routes going to a multitude of different peaks and connecting traverses, I can definitely see myself investing quite a bit of time here from now into the months leading up to Winter.

That morning I woke up and treated myself to a homemade breakfast of baked beans, eggs over easy, toast and caramelized garlic, onion, red peppers. As I finished this hearty meal I realized I was full but not really satisfied. Sometimes my hankering to do a certain activity sneaks up on me and it takes me a minute to recognize what it is I’m jonesing to do. As I washed the dishes it struck me, the weather was great outside, I had been here three months…and I had yet to do any hiking (trampoling is the term I learned in New Zealand and the most charming term for this activity in my opinion).

From my subway station in Youngdeungpo-gu the trip only had one transfer at Hapjeong and took  less than half an hour to arrive at my destination, Dokbawi station (line 6, stop #613). Just one of the wondrous things about this country is how you have this gigantic wilderness areas with hiking and camping just off the subway line. As I got closer and closer to my stop more and more people sporting North Face (or the local Red Face brand) backpacks and boots, Patagonia outdoor apparel and hiking poles file into the subway. I had forgotten my directions from the subway station to the trail-head but this did not present too much of a problem as I just followed the steady stream of hikers making their way towards the mountain.

I’m a fairly adept hiker but the first 45 minutes are always the hardest, unless you are doing a real grueling trek of like ten plus miles (adept for an amateur…). You seem to be sweating the hardest and finding your rhythm during this stage. I haven’t gone on a good hike for about 4 months and was definitely feeling rusty that first hour. Heart was beating, breath was a heavy pant and I definitely drew some amused chuckles from the ajumma and ajeossi (old women and men) sharing the trail with me.

I reached the summit (one of dozens of peaks within Bukhansan) within an hour of starting. The view justified the original hiccups finding my pace and then some. I chatted for a while with a 3M business men about good hikes, what brought me to Korea and the benefits of travel. So many people I encounter here seem to really enjoy a good conversation and are eager to utilize what English they know.

After bidding him goodbye I walked over to a different vantage within a cloud of dragonfly/butterfly swarms and took the occasion to sit down and hydrate. Within five minutes I noticed a late middle-aged Korean man walking around the summit picking up any bits of trash with a long pair of tongs. As he drew near me he inquired “You are a foreigner and hiking alone?”, I laughed and responded in the positive. He seem quite impressed when I informed him I had only been in the country for three months and this was my first hiking excursion. He then chided me “You should not hike by yourself! I hike by myself but live at the base of this mountain and hike it every weekend.” He sat down next to me and we sat in silence reflecting on the view for a solemn few minutes.

I broke the silence by offering some of the peanuts I had brought with me for a light lunch break. He thanked me and offered some tea. Asking him what type it was brought a perplexed countenance to his face but after a minute on his smartphone he proclaimed that it was Buckwheat jelly tea. With some trepidation I politely accepted and was pleasantly surprised. Green in color with a complex and hearty taste it was quite good. With this exchange of sustenance done he offered to show me around the nearby peaks and valleys.

Sung was self-taught in English via books and the local EBT (English Broadcast Channel) learning programs. He was in great shape and engaged in the perfect amount of conversation. I don’t consider myself anti-social but I love those reflective moments during a good hike when you are just focused on the movement of your limbs and savoring the scenery around you. During our 2-3 hours of hiking I watched as he picked up about 3 pounds in litter. He showed me some of the rock-climbing spots and a grand little creekside rest stop to soak our feet and splash some cool, fast-flowing alpine water on our faces and arms.

I was truly fortunate to have him as a guide and he is another great example of the hospitality and cheerful good-will I have experienced from complete strangers here in Korea. Our hike ended with showing me a small Buddhist temple at the end of the hike and escorting me to the subway stop with was no small act of kindness since I did not see a winding line of hikers going back to the subway at this point. All in all a most satisfying and productive day and the

If the hotel we stayed at the first night seemed somewhat stark, dingy and antiquated we were in for quite the surprise upon arrival at our next lodgings. “The Guest House” (actual name of business) just opened up for business in the past two months and was fully furnished with a very modern (two separate computers for guest use) and trendy look to it. We slept 4 people to a room in separate bunk beds. The beds were comfortable and the layout of the room was quite convenient with individual lockers and a large closet for clothes and luggage. Not only was there on site laundry for your sandy, sea-smelling beach attire but they had a fully stocked kitchen and provided breakfast free of charge, though conversation for me was slightly limited.

Korean frosted flakes? Order Up!

Lively conversations around me are a reminder that I need to focus more on my Korean conversational skills.

I really enjoyed the charismatic and goofy owner/manager of the property. The first night there my coworkers decided to go to the bars immediately after the beach. I for one am more of a shower and change kinda guy, don’t really like sitting on a bar stool with the feeling of sand in my shoes and in my clothes. Due to this I hopped on the subway for a little evening transition time in between festivities. On a related quick tangent I feel like a true expat because I now have not one, but Two Korean subway cards! One Seoul Metro linked onto my bank account and one Busan Hannaro card.

Haha, back to the story… I arrived at the guesthouse after a quick stop by the store for some Mekju (beer), ramen, soft tofu and green onions. After a quick shower I fired up the elements and started crafting a little curry ramen stew. While talking to my new friend Peter who was a student/soldier (all Koreans over twenty must serve for a little under two years in the armed forces) I pulled out my trusty bag of culinary tricks and added a little complexity to my dish. Many of my friends will tell you that I can’t eat without my assortment of condiments and I packed accordingly for this vacation. My coworker from Philly likened me to a culinary Felix the Cat and his magical bag of tricks.

Peter saw the meal and the mekju I pulled out of the fridge and seemed to be a bit inspired as he produced a bag of rice balls stuffed with kimchi and boiled potatoes and ran down to the 7-11 to purchase some beer of his own. Around this time the owner came out of his room/office smelling the curry in the air and looking curiously at the dining table. Upon seeing my dish he let out the often hear “WOW!” and asked if I was a chef. I laughed and told him my Dad had spent some time in this occupation but that my brother was the cook in the family and I just learned some tricks and enjoyed the hobby.

We sat and chatted in simplified English for a bit and then Peter returned with some beer. Food was traded and beers were clanked together held by two hands and the utterance of “Gombey” which is the traditional Korean cheers. Do not accidentally say “Kampi” or you will look like a real ass…

The next morning the same WOW was uttered a few times by Peter and the manager when I made a little breakfast omelette. I felt a happy and somewhat proud sense of Deja Vu.

Sprucing up the finished product with a little Sriracha, garlic salt w/ parsley, basil and a drizzle of Chili oil.

Breakfast of Champions!

The manager was so impressed he asked me to give him an English name. First time I have given a grown man a namesake. Cheers to you Ethan of the guesthouse and all the gracious and fun-loving other Korean guests I met there!

And thus you were named!

Big Ups to my Guest House peeps!

Lunch was had across the street at the Shinsegae department store. The sushi was really good in the food court with a nice tuna roll wrapped in that crazy purple rice they have here in Korea. It was pretty similar to most of the department stores except for the fact that….IT’S THE BIGGEST ONE IN THE WORLD! Haha, yeah, movie theatre, spa, Romanesque fountains with alabaster sculptures, an ice rink and a giant Guiness seal of authenticity on the front it was a little overwhelming.

If you go to the website you might even get to see the testimony “webmercial” video testimony he filmed of my review to try and coax other waygookins into his 21st story guest house of wonders.

Finally got a moment of respite from the marathon teaching that was last week. This is shaping up to be a great work week as we had Monday off for Korean independence day, some of you may have taken note of this is you saw Google’s homepage giving props to the flag. Thursday and Friday all my afternoon classes have the singing contest so no real intensive classes then and on Friday all morning classes have the pajama party, my kindergarten coteacher and I are in charge of cooking classes so we’re teaching them all how to make  canapés for the entire session.

Enough about SLP though I still need to recap my Busan vacation at the beginning of this month. Our (I was accompanied by 4 of my coworkers) train going down to Busan actually left at 10:30 instead of 9:50 as we originally thought so we made it to the departing station in downtown central Seoul in no time. We were riding on the KTX and I had never ridden on a bullet train before so this was quite a novel experience.

To travel from Seoul which is near the Northwest corner of Korea all the way down to Busan on the opposite end of the country takes only about 3 hours including the numerous stops at stations to pick up more passengers along the way. You really don’t comprehend exactly how fast you are moving as you look out onto the landscape in the distance. Then you focus on the scenery passing by in a closer proximity to the train and suffer a wave of vertigo as everything just becomes a blur of movement.

Upon arrival we hailed a cab and cruised out to our hotel. This is peak vacation season and we had just managed to snag one of the last hotel rooms available. The price was really cheap but the hotel was located in an odd spot of town where very few foreigners visit. It did kind of feel like I was in an odd ’80s communist era hotel but the beds were comfortable and the AC was efficient so I can’t complain.

We spent a total of three nights in Busan. During the day we hit up many beaches including the most popular beach Haundae. This was by far the most crowded beach that I have ever been on in my life. A sea of parasols and beach mats covered most of the available square footage and the always present lifeguards on jet skis not letting swimmers past 6-7 feet deep roamed the waters like sharks waiting outside a reef. The sound of families, soju intoxicated college kids and fellow expats was a constant drone. While exciting and spring-breakesque this wasn’t really my idea of the perfect beach.

Vacation seaside frenzy.

In comparison to this the next day was quite a difference as we went out to Songjeong beach and had another day of soaking up some rays. This beach is far more family orientated and much less crowded. Had some decent nostalgia stirred up upon seeing all the kids making moat-encircled sand castles by the water line. I decided to invest in one of the intertube rentals for $5 and was rewarded with a nice cool vantage point mostly above water gently bobbing in the sea. Spectacular.

One other great thing to note about this beach is that it was the only one I saw with an area roped off for surfing and had quite a few amateur Korean surfers trying to catch the small breakers coming in. I flashed a “shaka” but think this hawaiian greeting was lost in translation. I was kinda tempted to go hit up the surf shack on the other side of the road to rent a board but it wasn’t destined to be as we didn’t discover this part of the beach until nearer to sunset.

Bobbing on the intertube with my shades on was vacay bliss.

The next day I was feeling like I had my fill of beaches and decided to enrich the cultural aspect of this trip by visiting one of the local Buddhist temples. Haedong Yonggungsa is a unique temple to Korea in that it is the only Buddhist temple in this country that is located right on the coast. I had originally planned on visiting Beomeosa which is one of the “5 great temples of Korea” but its isolated location up in the mountains in Northern Busan and associated 1.5-2 hour one-way transit time was kinda discouraging. I didn’t regret my decision to opt for Yonggungsa the moment I stood at this tranquil viewpoint with the ocean breeze caressing my face.

The only seaside temple in Korea.

This is the first large Buddhist temple I have ever visited and I was quite impressed. The only one I had seen before this was the very small and quaint temple located within Boramae park two stops away from my hood. This temple had numerous sentinel-like sculptures leading up to the entrance to the temple steps once you finally made it through the long alley of stalls selling everything from sweet red-bean pastries to Buddhist amulets & bracelets and even iced apricot tea (I was intrigued).

A long set of steps followed leading down past small alters with old wax encrusted pillars and stonework lanterns cut from a white rock. A few smaller outdoor side shrines branched off until you reached a vista point and all of the sudden you could all of the sudden perceive the main temple complex pictured above and the panoramic sea view pictured below.

The sun was strong but the setting so serene you didn't notice the sweat.

Finally doing some culturally enriching sightseeing instead of just beaches and bar debauchery!

While here I felt a strong sense of fulfillment and pride. My father raised me Roman Catholic (no longer practicing) but always strongly urged me to visit as many temples, synagogues, cathedrals and mosques to truly gain an appreciation for the cultures that created them. The stories concerning the origins of this place as well as the values reflected in the architecture, layout religious artwork truly seemed to impress upon you some empathy for the civilization that created it.

This was the main one out of many different buddha statues. Some were small stone ones with rub-worn stone bellies due to generations of hands searching for good luck. Others were giant ebony totems right by the breaking ocean waves.

The general mood of the people was a joy to behold. From the old, stoic grandmother making her practiced bows in the inner shrine, to the sightseeing tourists soaking up part of their own culture and snapping dozens of photos  every few minutes, to the small children running around smiling and laughing everyone seemed very at peace. No one was rude or pushy in the lines like at the subway stations. Everyone just seemed to appreciate where they were and the moment they were living in.

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