December 28-29, 2018
We arose early on our final day in Gyeongju, eager to visit the famous Bulguksa Temple. A World Heritage site, it is located out of town on the slopes of Mt. Toham, and is the head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. Off we went on a modern bus, which wound through country roads, past numerous resort hotels, hills reminiscent of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and a large lake. What a beautiful place for a vacation…in the summer!
Like most of the places we’ve visited, the temple grounds were reached by a bank of steep stone steps. Once we had climbed up, we walked, leisurely, through a massive park adorned with artistic walls and beautifully sculpted trees. The temple seemed to me a bit sparse in contrast to the lush countryside, but it dated from around 751 AD, a sturdy structure from a simpler time. Walks and lattice work showed where the monks had lived. There are very few monks still in South Korea these days, according to Shawo. He said that atheism is on the rise, except for several Christian groups, mainly the Roman Catholics, known to be aggressive in their proselytizing.
Click on photos for slide show.
You will notice in these next three photos that numerous small lanterns hang on many of the ceilings of the temple. Written on the little cards attached to the lanterns are the names of donors (benefactors) who support the temple. It’s quite colorful and decorative.
I am always entranced by the meticulous carvings throughout Buddhist temples, especially on the roofs and around the windows. Here are a few samples.
And now it was time to retrace our steps and head for the bus for our return to town.
At eight the next morning we boarded the bullet train for Seoul-Incheon airport. Once again, I was blown away by the cleanliness and artistic design of the buildings, especially the airport. I took too many pictures, a sign of gratitude for the beauty and freshness of a country that has moved to First World status in a relatively short time. American subways and buses could take a lesson from South Korea. There is no litter and people are constantly cleaning, whether sidewalks or rolling walkways in airports. The contrast between the dust and dirt of Nepal and India is striking. After my recent mishap on a speed bump in Boudha, I sure loved the even streets and orderly infrastructure.
Don’t ask me how many escalators we negotiated on our pilgrimage through the airport. Cary and Shawo did the heavy lifting, so I was free to video various cultural events and folk dances seen along the way. Here is a sample of our farewell meanderings. And you will be glad to know that I finally got my ice cream cone…at Baskin-Robbins, no less. It was Shawo’s treat.
And now, the long walk to our gate.
I wrote down some interesting statistics about our trip back to Seattle. We traveled 8 hours and 35 minutes at 780 mph. Korea is 17 hours behind us, but with a tail wind, we arrived shortly after 8 AM Seattle time…before we had even left…according to the calendar. Boggles the mind!
We were full of mixed feelings as the plane ascended and we prepared for the long night ahead. Our minds were swirling with images of happy people, holiday celebrations, unique restaurants, temples and monuments, long meandering walks through pristine parks, and, most of all, the renewed connection with our dear friend, Shawo. There was sadness at leaving, but also excitement at the promise of future trips to whatever Asian country his career led him. The connection would not be broken.