Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Gyeryeongsan mountains

Peak at Gyeryeongsan

On Friday I went hiking at the sacred mountains of Gyeryongsan in Chungcheongnam-do province near Daejeon. It has been long believed that the Gyeryong mountains emanate a very strong mystical energy. Because of this many Buddhists, shamans, Christians and others have built temples, shrines and churches here.

The bus dropped me off near Donghaksa temple. The outside speakers at the small convenience store near the bus stop were ironically playing 'Jingle Bell Rock' (which managed to lodge itself into my head for the remainder of the day). I walked to the temple and stopped there to have a look at the Buddha's birthday festivities.

Bathing baby Buddha at Donghaksa


A family with two young kids adopted me for lunch at the temple, beckoning me to follow them to a suitable spot on the grass for a lunch of bibimbap. After bibimbab we had tomatoes, bananas and melons and I smiled as they took pictures of me with their hand phones individually with every member of the family. After thanking them for their hospitality I moved on to the trail. I hiked towards Nammaetap, a set of "brother-sister" pagodas, and then towards Gapsa temple. I sidetracked the trail to Gapsa for awhile to climb some steep stairs to a peak with a view. It was worth it.

The trail from the peak to Gapsa was far less crowded than the earlier trail I had been on. A middle aged Korean man and I were going the same pace for a while and he asked me where I was going (in Korean). I told him Gapsa and he replied, "Same, same," (a phrase that every English teacher here has certainly heard hundreds of times in the classroom). "Together," he said. Without looking for one, I found myself a hiking companion. He hardly spoke English and every time I would say something in Korean it would send him into an amused fit of the giggles. We made our way mostly in silence through the brilliant green trees, eventually making a short stop at a small temple for him to do bows.

Playing Korean chess

Right before Gapsa he asked me if I wanted to stop at a small teashop alongside a stream and surrounded by trees off to the left of the trail. Of course I did. The only tea I recognized in hangul was omijacha (5 tastes tea) and he ordered two cold cups of it. As we were resting and savoring the tea I told him I was planning on going to Yeoseong and asked if there was a bus. He said there wasn't and a taxi would cost 50,000 Won. I started doing the motions for hitchhiking, trying to ask him if he thought it would be alright. (I assumed most people were going to Daejeon from Gyeryeongsan and Yeoseong is directly in the middle so I thought it would be a relatively easy task.) His look clearly said: You poor thing, how have you survived this long alone in this country without someone holding your hand the entire time? Not the reaction I was going for but I should have expected it.

After our tea we walked by the temple and out to the main parking lot. He asked around and to his relief more than mine, found out there was a bus to Yeoseong in one hour. He found out how much the fare was and then, ignoring my refusal, stuffed the small amount in my backpack, perhaps in hopes I would completely abandon the dangerous idea of hitchhiking.

Too much food

I ate dinner and read (Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami) while I waited for the bus, not really knowing what I was in for for the night. When I got off the stop in Yeoseong I caught a taxi to Jakwangsa temple where a friend was staying for the night. We watched a dharma talk and then had a chat with a monk before retiring for the evening.

I had a room to myself that night and slept with the windows open, the fresh mountain air reminding me of Colorado at the cabin. The smell of rain and the sound of the moktok woke me up early to Saturday morning. And the weekends only just begun.