Halfway to the Temple...
So Tuesday rolled around and I realized it was the last day of my four day holiday. I was actually suppose to go to the fish markets with my recruiter and her husband until I was reminded by Wende that we had plans to visit one of the more popular temples; Beomeo. It was an overcast that day but we none-the-less set out for my first look at one of the pillars of eastern society. The humidity here has been atrocious, even worse than Texas if that is possible. The subway ride there was only about 4 stops north and then we hopped bus #90 to the top of the mountain. Now I have only experienced a nightmarish ride on a bus like this once before, which I will not say “exactly” where, but I thought we were going over that damn mountain. The traffic laws are not obeyed here but that is a whole other blog entry.
Rock embankment....perfect for picnics
Finally we made it to the edge of Beomeo Temple at close to halfway up the mountain, the rest of the way was reserved for walking up treacherously steep stairways and slippery (it was drizzling) rock pathways. I was cool with my white “Vans” but Wende almost took a tumble a time or two.
The pathways winded in and out of heavily wooded and bambooed patches of flora, leading in and out of entryways to the Temple’s main courtyard. When we came out of one of the clearings, we saw hundreds of people stretched out in and around a natural spring streaming from somewhere inside the mountain. Some were cooling their feet in the water, some visited with one another over Kimchee, and others just seemed to enjoy the tranquility of the setting. After climbing a “few” more steps we passed through what felt like a guardian of sorts, a portico with four armed Buddha’s watching over those who crossed the thresh-hold.
I attempted several times to capture the scene, but could not get a clear picture. Strangely, Wende told me that she had the same problem on her last visit to the Temple. These guys evidently don’t like to have their picture taken.
Most of the structures and Temples here in Korea have been destroyed in previous wars and later rebuilt, but the preserved statues and relics are riddled with Chinese characters stemming back to past occupations. I realized very quickly that these Temples are not only tourist attractions but also practicing sanctuaries for worship. I was unable to capture the beauty that surrounds this Temple, though I doubt they make a camera that could. The striking landscape of the countryside was unparalleled to anything that I have ever seen before.
There was also an eerie peacefulness that seemed to possess all of the Koreans we saw. This was unmistakably a place of strong spiritual quintessence for these people. We walked slowly and deliberately up more steps carefully viewing every building and sculpture on the grounds. We eventually arrived at the shrines where the Buddhists were involved in meditation. I so wanted to snap a few photos of this potent ritual, but realized how rude it would have been. Imagine a few Muslims entering a Southern Baptist church during mid-sermon and snapping pictures at all the churchgoers during prayer. I chose to respect their privacy. The Korean Buddhists were packed in these two pagodas bowing and kneeling over and over while repeating a hum-like chant. There was also a mild drum beat in the background that set their tempo.
Community water hole...
Again and again they kept standing, kneeling, and bowing. Some even did this outside on tarps that were soaked and muddy from the now steady rain. They almost did it in unison with such focus and determination; we stood and watched in awe and silence. I welled up with emotion and began tearing, though I couldn’t tell you why. There was indeed something profound about the experience, and I can only say that it was very powerful and spiritual in nature.
We finally came to the end of the road and all that remained were hiking trails that disappeared into the mountainside. The manmade steps and walkways were tough enough with the rain, so we decided against battling rocks and muddy footpaths. The descent from the mountain proved more dangerous that coming up, especially the bus ride. Some of the drivers here show absolutely no fear, even when driving on slippery roads with 300 foot drop offs. I am sure I looked like the brave one holding on for dear life with my wide eyes placed firmly against the window.